On the eve of WPI’s 147th Commencement, graduating students, WPI community members, and family and friends gathered on the Quad for an intimate and inspiring Baccalaureate ceremony.
Organized by members of the senior class, the event offered students an opportunity to reflect on their time at WPI and begin to look toward the future. This year’s Baccalaureate was held on the Quad for the first time ever in order to accommodate a growing number of attendees, but it maintained its traditional program, including musical performances, religious invocations, and reflections from graduating seniors.
“WPI taught me to think analytically and logically, and these skills can be applied to all aspects of life.” – Guest Speaker Woody Bradford ’89
A highlight of the event was the evening’s guest speaker, Woody E. Bradford ‘89, who received his BS in chemistry and went on to earn an MBA from Harvard Business School. Currently the chief executive officer at Conning, he was selected by the Baccalaureate Committee based on his professional achievements as well as his commitment to helping others as chairman of the board of the Greater Boston Food Bank.
Bradford began his speech by describing his thoughts at his own graduation from WPI more than 25 years ago—he then proceeded to explain how his ideas about his future had been completely incorrect.
“At the time, I thought that my degree and the job I was taking were going to establish my career and define me for the rest of my life, and that if I worked hard at that, I’d be successful and make a difference,” he said. “I was ready to conquer the world. But I couldn’t have been more wrong in the way I was thinking about the future.
“It never crossed my mind when I was preparing to graduate, but I’ve come to learn that my WPI education was something very different. I thought at the time that WPI was about learning answers to questions … but it was really about learning how to question answers. WPI taught me to think analytically and logically, and these skills can be applied to all aspects of life.”
Bradford also spoke about how students could use their education to make an impact in a rapidly innovating world, particularly if they are willing to take risks. He gave an example from his own career in which he jumped at an opportunity to facilitate a merger between two companies even though he had no experience doing so.
“I hadn’t been trained to do any of those things, but my education from WPI gave me the foundation to tackle real-world problems and, more important, deliver real-world results,” he said. “And by throwing myself into this opportunity, I realized that I needed to learn more and ultimately launched a new path forward.”
He urged graduates to find a balance between their careers and other aspects of their lives, as he had done through his volunteer efforts with the Greater Boston Food Bank.
“It’s been a great joy and honor for me to offer my time, money, and expertise to this charity that I care for so deeply,” said Bradford. “None of this was in my master plan when I was sitting where you are sitting today, getting ready for graduation from WPI. But I can assure you that there are many great causes that need talented people like you to help make a difference.”
Seniors Athena Casarotto and Anna Civitarese also offered advice to the graduates. The two speakers, who were selected through a competitive audition process, gave compelling reflections that drew laughter and invoked fond memories.
Casarotto described how her experiences at WPI had transformed not only her path in life but also her perception of herself. She urged students to forge their own unique trails and related how she had done so by becoming a captain of WPI’s field hockey team, even though she had never played field hockey.
In summing up WPI’s unique community, she added, “this university stands out from the rest, not only because you can join the underwater hockey team … or go to Gompei’s birthday party … or complete an entire semester of work in only seven weeks … or implement your MQP on the viscoelasticity of ice … but because of all of that, and all of us.”
Civitarese also reflected on the elements that make WPI, and Worcester, unique, and spoke about the challenges and possibilities that lay ahead for graduates.
“During these last four years, many of us have become oddly attached to WPI and the lovely, windy, loud, snowy city of Worcester,” she said. There is a charm about WPI and Worcester in general that sometimes makes you shake your head, but other times makes stop and cherish the moment.”
She concluded, “Some say that life begins at the end of your comfort zone. So have faith. Be excited and push forward. We will meet our challenges head on, and we will conquer them better than we ever thought we could.”
POMP AND CIRCUMSTANCE
The hour-long ceremony was punctuated by special musical performances by members of the senior class, as well as religious and ceremonial elements.
Jeniece Macedonio, chair of Baccalaureate Committee, provided opening and closing remarks, while Father Juan Echavarria, WPI campus chaplain, gave the Invocation, and Rabbi Irving Luchans, community chaplain, offered the Benediction.
Douglas Weeks, WPI administrator of applied music, led the WPI Brass Ensemble on a diverse selection of pieces for the prelude as well as the familiar Trumpet Voluntary processional, by John Stanley. A trio of student musicians also performed a stirring rendition of Astor Piazzolla’s Oblivion on cello, violin, and piano, while WPI singers showed off their vocal talents with an a cappella performance of Arthur Sullivan’s The Long Day Closes.
Meanwhile, Amanda Weiss and Alexander Solomon, members of WPI’s Ballroom Dance Team, brought a contemporary aspect to the ceremony with an interpretive dance set to Rusted Root’s “Send Me on My Way.”
The ceremony was followed by a reception open to all WPI community members and friends at the Sports and Recreation Center.