Today, under gloriously sunny skies, 1,193 Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) graduates received their degrees, hugged classmates joyfully, lifted their voices in song, and celebrated their shared experiences.
All told, interim president Philip Ryan '65 presented 794 bachelor's degrees, 381 master's degrees, and 18 PhDs to members of the Class of 2014. An additional 382 degrees were awarded earlier this academic year.
Keynote speaker Bernard Amadei, founder of Engineers Without Borders-USA and co-founder of the Engineers Without Borders International, gave the graduates a personal "call to action," noting that he was in the presence of graduates “who truly have the potential to help solve our world’s great problems."
Amadei spoke against poverty, hunger, enslavement of women and girls, personal isolation, and a host of other social ills. He told the graduates that their responsibility extends "from you to the 7.2 billion people who are living on our planet," noting, specifically, that "we are living on a planet where close to 1 billion people do not have access to clean water, 2.4 billion do not have access to sanitation, 30,000 children die every day for reasons that are preventable, and 1.6 billion people do not have access to electricity."
He also noted that WPI graduates are uniquely prepared to tackle such problems. "You have gained knowledge, ability, and skills during your time here," Amadei said. "You are equipped to be truly effective problem solvers. You have also been engaged in the humanities and were taught to think of your place in the global context of our world, and your place in the universe."
In concluding his speech, Amadei, a professor of civil engineering and the holder of the Mortenson Endowed Chair in Global Engineering at the University of Colorado at Boulder, gave the Class of 2014 one last assignment: he urged the students to write down their life's mission statement in the next few days, adjust the statement as needed, and make improvement and changes along the way. "In other words," he said, "be disruptors to ‘business as usual.''' He concluded by saying, "This call to action is truly an obligation, and no longer an option."
Amadei’s remarks resonated with graduates.
"I thought Dr. Amadei's speech was fantastic, and it really rang true," said Michael Benz '07, who received his MBA. "I thought he had a powerful message. There are real problems in the world and WPI students are in a unique position to help. It was a great call to action."
Caroline Allen of Norton, Mass., who received her bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering, agreed. "It was a very impressive keynote," she said. "I was motivated and inspired and feel like I should give back to the world a bit."
During the ceremony, honorary degrees were conferred upon Amadei; Robert A. Foisie '56, retired founder of Matik North America Inc.; Sheila M. Harrity, nationally recognized principal of Worcester Technical High School; and Stephen E. Rubin '74, entrepreneur and former chairman of the WPI Board of Trustees.
WPI announced earlier this week that Foisie, a first-generation college graduate, is giving the university $40 million to provide scholarships for generations of students to come. The gift is the largest in the university’s 149-year history.
“I hope graduates will remember they had the benefit of one of the finest educations available to anyone,” Foisie told the gathering.
In his charge to the graduates, Interim President Ryan told the students that they have achieved at the highest levels—in the classroom, on project teams, and on the playing fields. He also noted that they "have demonstrated dedication and excellence and enriched the substance and vitality of our university’s academic, social, and cultural life."
Ryan also noted that serving as interim president for the past year has been one of his most rewarding and personally fulfilling experiences. "Whenever we encountered one another—in meetings, at performances and games, a casual chat in the Rubin Campus Center, or at poster presentations—I have always been deeply impressed. I have been deeply impressed not only by your intellect and achievements, but by your warmth and engaging personalities, your curiosity, your enthusiasm, your thoughtful insights and your evident qualities of character."
Class of 2014 student speaker Joseph F. Gay shared four things that he has learned from his WPI experience: cherish time spent outside the classroom, embrace different cultures and perspectives, value hard work and persistence, and ask thoughtful questions. On that final point, he noted, "I learned to never fully be satisfied with the answers to these questions, and instead always strive for more, to learn more and to understand more."
Stephen Rubin played a recording to let the audience know he is battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS); his remarks were read by his wife, Tracy. He said that WPI has impacted his life "in almost every way," from serving on an internship that led to jobs with start-ups and other businesses to hiring WPI graduates as the founder and past CEO of Intellution, an industrial software company. He also said that WPI faculty gave him the foundation for his professional success, and later noted that he helped open an Israel project center that focuses on innovation and entrepreneurship. "I love WPI. It helped me have a complete and successful life," he said.
Incoming WPI president Laurie Leshin, appearing at her first WPI Commencement, urged graduates to remember and appreciate the opportunity that WPI has provided them, and to pledge to maintain communications at alumni events. "You are truly our best and brightest ambassadors," she said.
Newly-minted WPI graduate Joshua Croke then led his class in the singing of the university's alma mater, a song written by Willard Hedlund, Class of 1910.
The Chairman’s Exemplary Faculty Prize was presented to Terri Camesano, professor of chemical engineering and assistant dean of engineering. The prize, established in 2007 through the personal philanthropy of Donald K. Peterson '71, former chair of the WPI Board of Trustees, recognizes faculty members who excel in all relevant areas of faculty performance.
The university also awarded Tarek Al-Shawaf '55, founder, president, and chairman of Saudconsult, the oldest and largest engineering and architectural firm in Saudi Arabia, the Presidential Medal; his sons, Faisal and Omar Al-Shawaf, accepted the honor on his behalf. Established in 2001, the medal recognizes outstanding individuals from all walks of life who, through their professional or personal accomplishments, exemplify the ideal of the "technological humanist."