132nd WPI Commencement Keynoted by AT&T CEO, C. Michael Armstrong

Contact: Neil Norum, WPI Media & Community Relations

Worcester, Mass. -- Despite heavy rain the night before, WPI's 132nd commencement was held in clear weather with the sun appearing during the May 20 ceremonies. C. Michael Armstrong, chairman and CEO of AT&T, was the keynote speaker addressing the 871 graduates, and an estimated 5,000 friends and family at the technological university. Just prior to Armstrong's address, four Air Force A-10 aircraft flew over the crowd.

Armstrong noted that WPI is widely admired for its history of educational excellence and for the long list of graduates who have gone on to become leaders in their fields. He recounted the story of Bell Laboratories employee Harold Black, a 1921 graduate of WPI, who authored the blueprint for the negative-feedback amplifier, a device that played a vital role in 20th Century electronics. The idea came to him while on a Manhattan ferry in New York harbor in 1927. Armstrong displayed the copy of the New York Times that Black sketched his idea upon.

Speaking about its impact, Armstrong said "It eliminated distortion from telephone calls, was used in gun-control systems during the Second World War, and it was key to a range of post-war electronics, from computers to pacemakers, to high-fidelity recordings.

"AT&T's connections with Worcester Polytechnic Institute are rich and long. Harold Black was one of more than 150 AT&T people over the years who received degrees from WPI. Many of them made major contributions to WPI, to AT&T, and to society. Their work helped usher in the global Information Age," Armstrong said.

Armstrong's message was on change and three principles that help meet and navigate change. "Assume nothing," he said. "Most of the biggest mistakes of corporate and career history have come from assumptions." The second operating principle he noted was "enjoy what you do, and do what you enjoy." His third principle was "stand for something." "Corporations and people have to stand on their values. At AT&T, for instance, we stand for values like respect for the individual, the best customer service, diversity in the workforce, and community involvement."

The 871 degrees awarded included 598 bachelors of science, 198 masters of science, 29 masters of engineering, one master of mathematics for educators, 28 MBAs, and 17 Ph.D.s. Honorary Doctor of Engineering degrees were awarded Armstrong and William N. Giudice, a 1976 alumnus and vice president and general manager of broadband internetworking systems for Conexant Systems Inc. and Michael C. Ruettgers, CEO of EMC Corp.

Leading the commencement procession was Professor Pamela J. Weathers of the biology and biotechnology department and recipient of the 2000 Trustees' Award for Outstanding Research and Creative Scholarship. The senior class speaker was Simon P. Nance.

Earlier in the day, Rear Admiral Peter A.C. Long, provost of the Naval War College, commissioned 19 graduates at a ROTC joint-service commissioning ceremony - 10 in the Air Force, four in the Navy, one in the Marines, and four in the Army.

Activities the day before included a Global Perspective ceremony at which 406 graduates from 19 off-campus sites received recognition and a medallion. Later, an overflowing crowd attended the Baccalaureate ceremony in Alden Hall with an inspirational program of music, student reflections and a talk by George R. Oliver, a 1982 alumnus and vice president and general manager of General Electric Aircraft Engines Supply Chain.