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WPI Launches Class of 2015 with Commencement Address from Pioneering Astronaut Bernard Harris

Nearly 1,700 degrees awarded during WPI’s 147th Commencement; Keynote by Dr. Bernard A. Harris, Jr., President of the Harris Foundation and First African American to Walk in Space

May 16, 2015
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Dr. Bernard Harris addressed the Class of 2015

Today on the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) campus Quadrangle, 1,680 graduates received their degrees during the university's 147th Commencement. At the ceremony, 956 bachelor's degrees, 682 master's degrees, and 42 PhDs were awarded.

Thousands gathered to hear messages delivered by keynote speaker Bernard A. Harris, Jr., M.D., an astronaut who became the first African American to walk in space, and who went on to become the founder and president of the Harris Foundation, a nonprofit whose mission is to "empower individuals, in particular minorities and others who are economically and/or socially disadvantaged, to recognize their potential and pursue their dreams"; WPI President Laurie A. Leshin; and Class of 2015 speaker Roman Gutierrez.

Honorary degrees were conferred upon Dr. Harris; Ellen S. Dunlap, president of the American Antiquarian Society, and Judith Nitsch’75, founding principal of Nitsch Engineering and WPI trustee emerita.

The Chairman's Exemplary Faculty Prize was presented to Kathi Fisler, PhD, professor of computer science and director of the WPI Cybersecurity Program. 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.

In her remarks, Leshin told the graduates, "Each of you – every young woman and young man in front of me – has the capacity, the knowledge, and the opportunity to make an impact."

Leshin also advised them " …don’t only see the opportunities ahead, but the responsibilities ahead – and leverage what you’ve achieved here not just to do well but to do good."

In his speech, Dr. Harris shared his belief that, "Dreams are the reality of the future." Later adding, "You need to raise your expectations of yourself. It’s important they come from you; don’t build your life around the expectations of others… find your passion." He also added, "Sometimes failure is an option: Don’t let failure define you, let failure refine you." In conclusion, Dr. Harris asked all of the graduates to "Repeat after me: I am an infinite being with infinite possibilities."