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Move In Day Remarks

August 28, 2014

Good afternoon, Class of 2018! I am so excited to welcome you to WPI – after all the months of campus visits and applications, anticipation and planning, you are finally here! I hope you have had a good morning getting settled in and are already getting to know some new friends. How about another big thanks to the students who did such an amazing job helping you out so far --- they are a perfect reflection of the community you have joined – engaged, caring, helpful and fun.

Parents and loved ones, I am delighted to welcome you to campus as well. I want you to know that I deeply appreciate the trust you have placed in us, and the investment you are making with us. All of us at WPI are fully committed to educate your sons and daughters, to care for them, and to position them on the path to success in their careers and their lives. I am here because I have made it my personal mission in life, every day, to ensure that we deliver on that promise. My team and my family are just as committed to this as I am – let me introduce you… Parents, I know it will be difficult for some of you to drive away today, but I know from experience that you will be doing the right thing. I went to a University that was only four miles from my home but my mother insisted that I live on campus. She wanted me to experience college, not just attend college. And she was absolutely right – it was a transformative experience. You are giving that same gift to your daughters and sons today.

Now, back to you, Class of 2018 -- how are you feeling? Excited? Eager to get everything settled? Maybe a little overwhelmed? Are you wondering how you will blend the old with the new in your life? Well, I want to share a secret with you. I am feeling all of those things because I am really a freshman too. This is my first year as president of WPI and I moved in to my campus housing just a few short weeks before you. I can already tell you that in choosing WPI, you and I have made a GREAT decision. Just like WPI did when it chose us!

Here’s what I know after being here for almost three months -- WPI chose you because you have the intelligence, the creativity, and the drive to succeed here, to make the world better, and make people’s lives better in communities around the planet. We know you can go the distance at WPI because you have already demonstrated your capabilities in so many different arenas. Here are just a few of your accomplishments:

  • Members of the Class of 2018 already have several patents pending, including a blender drill bit, a biodegradable fish hook, and a light beam delivery system.

  • One of the Class of 2018 is a three-time national bronze medalist in synchronized swimming.

  • Another is a helicopter pilot.

  • One of your classmates is the number one ranked table tennis player in Vietnam & another is a wrestler who competed in the 2013 Junior Olympics.

  • One of your classmates was part of a team that won first prize at the NASA Johnson Space Center Innovation Summit for developing a non-wood burning cooking device called the Eco-Cooker.

  • And in what sounds like a scene out of a movie, one of you was called in to help fix the Miami Bomb Squad robot.

And there are so many more – the truth is, you’ve all got things like this that make you unique – you all already have a way that you have made your mark– and here at WPI we will help you to continue develop into the distinctive person you are – by doing things you have never done before, by stretching your mind, and by pushing you to step into unknown situations with confidence, humility and curiosity. WPI students have always been explorers and risk-takers, thinkers and doers—from Robert Goddard, WPI Class of 1908, the father of American rocketry and one of my personal heroes, to a team from the Class of 2014 who won first place at the Cornell Cup for developing a smart robotic prosthetic hand. We always seek to embody our founding motto of theory and practice – we are a community that learns by doing.

Generations of WPI students have also been bound together by our wonderful traditions. You have so many to look forward to, like Quadfest, Founder’s Day, and Gompeii’s Birthday, where we celebrate our favorite goat and mascot. On Wednesday evening you and I, together, will have the honor of taking part in one of WPI’s oldest and most meaningful traditions: the crossing of Earle Bridge. That will be the first time you cross the bridge as a class. The next time will be the day you graduate. When you make that crossing on Wednesday evening, you will truly be part of the WPI family, and you will be welcomed to our family by faculty members lining the bridge. I’m so excited to cross with you, as we start our WPI journey together. Thanks for including me in your class!

WPI was founded almost 150 years ago, in fact you are coming at a great time – we will celebrate our birthday over the coming year. Because of our history, we care deeply about our traditions -- but make no mistake, we are a University that is very much about the inventing the future—your future and the future of our world. At WPI, you will get a jump on your future right away by doing as well as learning. You won’t just study the world’s most complex problems, you’ll use science, technology, engineering, and math to help solve those problems. We will expect you to use your skills, and the wisdom you gain through vigorous engagement with the humanities, to make a positive impact in real communities near campus and across the globe. This approach is the bedrock of our project-based education and the great WPI Plan. And I suspect that it is a reason that many of you chose to come here.

We have 40 project centers running on five continents, from Worcester to Silicon Valley, from China to Costa Rica, from Switzerland to South Africa. I’ve already had the chance to visit our project center in Bar Harbor, Maine and it was a phenomenal experience. In one of the most beautiful settings you can imagine, WPI students were working on several exciting projects together, like measuring light pollution and capturing “sound experiences” in Acadia National Park. These students spoke with such passion about their projects, and about working so closely with their student teams and faculty advisor, that I wanted to dive right in with them.

I know you will too, so I urge you to start thinking and planning now to do at least one of your projects off campus, either in the United States or abroad, especially for the IQP in your junior year. I know you just got here and I’m already urging you to go away but this is such a vital part of a WPI education. Moms and Dads, you may be interested to know that the Princeton Review just ranked us second in the nation for our Study Abroad Program – and for WPI, “study abroad” is all about doing impactful hands-on projects in real communities worldwide.

So, how are you feeling now? Excited? Eager to get settled? A little overwhelmed? Let me remind you what I said at the beginning: WPI chose you because you are intelligent, creative, committed, and driven enough to succeed here. That’s not to say that it will be easy. I can guarantee you it won’t. You will need to work hard and you will find that our expectations of you are high. You will struggle at times – we wouldn’t be doing our job if we didn’t challenge you. That’s ok – it’s expected. But when you find that you are struggling with something, be it a class or something more personal, do me a favor -- don’t keep it to yourself. All through New Student Orientation you will hear about the many, many resources that WPI has to support you and help you make the most of your college experience. Be sure you take advantage of them. Or email me directly if you need help at laleshin@wpi.edu or (if you can’t remember that) president@wpi.edu – or come to my office hours that I’m holding every month at locations around campus -- as a President, I probably won’t be of much use, but I will figure out who can help! Or just tweet me @LaurieofMars or come by to say hi!

I particularly want to encourage you to take advantage of the fabulous resource that is our faculty -- they want to help you succeed. They are full of great ideas and wisdom based on their years of experience at WPI and in the world -- and they are really wonderful people too! So make it your mission to get to know them this year!

My final piece of advice to you is always keep yourself open to discovery. Here at WPI you are surrounded by brilliant, funny, interesting people from all over the world. Share with them who you are and, in turn, listen to what they have to say. Even when it challenges your own beliefs—in fact, especially when it challenges your own beliefs. That is the very essence of what it means to be in a university. Seize the opportunity to learn whenever you can from whoever you can. Find out what others know that you don’t. This is a learning community – immerse yourselves in it, enjoy it, and share something of yourself with it.

Something you may not know about me is that I spent six years working at NASA, and I am still a member of the Mars Curiosity Rover Team. Yes, I am a space nerd. Yes, I AM a rocket scientist. I am passionate about exploring the unknown and I believe that attempting difficult or even impossible tasks is the best way to discover who we really can be. So I am going to close by sharing with you my best impression of NASA mission control. But before I do, let me reiterate that you have my warmest wishes as you set out on your WPI journey, and I can’t wait to know you all better.

OK, back to mission control – and I’ll need your help on this one

Class of 2018, you are go for launch! 
In 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1 – liftoff!!