Commencement 2021: A Year of Resilience

Faculty and Staff Reflect on the Class of 2021
May 18, 2021

Commencement 2021 celebrates graduates (many of whom shared some reflections of their own) who have persevered through a year that threw all kinds of challenges their way. Wth a world in upheaval, these graduates worked, studied, pivoted, pressed on, celebrated, mourned, and pushed through. The faculty and staff at WPI took notice of their grit, marveled at how they rose to the challenge, and lauded the way they came together to overcome the barriers that the past year put in their paths. Congratulations, Class of 2021!



All of the graduates should be commended for finishing their studies under difficult conditions. You should take extra pride in how you persevered through the past year. 

Terri Camesano, Professor, Chemical Engineering and Dean of Grad Studies, Academic Affairs



The Class of 2021 is the most adaptable and resilient group of students—this batch that has not only survived the pandemic but risen to the occasion and made all of us proud of #WeAreWPI!!!! Facing adversity is one thing but to overcome it with spirit and determination shows a class that is beyond imagination. It shows the world that regardless of the challenge that is thrown at them, they will overcome it and win all battles! Kudos to y’all for being an inspiration to all of us.

Jagan Srinivasan, Associate Professor, Biology & Biotechnology



As Dean of the School of Arts & Sciences, I am often asked my thoughts about our students. This year, there is one word that comes to mind: resilience. While our global community experienced one of the greatest challenges of our generation, WPI’s graduating students pressed forward to complete their education, showing an astounding degree of persistence and flexibility. These students have shown time and time again that they are dedicated to achieving their goals, regardless of the barriers placed in front of them. They have risen to the challenge, and then some. The coping skills and resilience our graduating students have demonstrated has made our entire community proud. I wish them success in their future endeavors— I have no doubt that no matter what comes their way, these students have the fortitude to be successful.

Jean King, Dean, School of Arts & Sciences



I've always said that WPI students will feel welcomed, valued, challenged, and supported. In these challenging times, I’m so proud of how you cared for and supported each other and the entire community. Thank you and congratulations, Class of 2021! 

John McNeillDean, School of Engineering 



Class of 2021, this year has been one of great trial across the globe. It’s also a glimpse into the immense and evolving challenges facing our society that you, by virtue of your work and learning at WPI, are now prepared to help solve. I am so proud of you for your perseverance and resilience. You’ve been adaptable, creative, and nimble in uncertainty, remained focused on your learning, and took care of your peers along the way. Congratulations on your graduation. I’m proud to celebrate this important and historical milestone with you!

Emily Perlow, Associate Dean of Students, Student Affairs



This is the class for the ages. They survived one of the most devastating pandemics the U.S. and the world has ever faced, with a strong motivation to persist building their knowledge and skills, while maintaining relationships. They were diligent, focused, and remained in overall good humor. I saw some of the best results that I have ever seen from any class. This class faced significant obstacles—obstacles everyone had to overcome, adjusting their lives in a rapid way and performing exceptionally academically. They have learned how to be flexible, motivated, and caring in times of extreme turbulence and change. There is one constant in life and that is change. There will likely be few crises like the one faced, whether it is at work or in life. This learning experience—although difficult—will remain and make them stronger and open to new ways of doing things. While the crisis took away some experiences, it opened doors to other ones. It likely made everyone more empathetic to broader crises—and they will know that they can persevere and succeed. As an example, we had an international IQP with students from China. Ironically, our teams were able to interact more and get insights into the lives of students on the other side of the world. These insights would not have been likely without the new tools that we needed to use to learn and communicate.

Joseph Sarkis, Professor, Foisie Business School



Many WPI students graduate with problem-solving skills that are beyond many of their colleagues in their career field of choice. To that end, I think the challenges and experiences of the last year will provide the Class of 2021 with an even greater eye towards solution oriented thinking and creative problem solving as they enter into the next phase of their lives and careers. More specifically the Class of 2021 has had in some cases their IQP and MQP experiences altered from what they expected and planned for over their time at WPI. They have faced adversity in navigating how to complete their rigorous coursework virtually in seven-week terms and keep connected to their faculty and peers. It is truly hard to capture in words how this senior year experience will truly shape them going forward, but it is clear it will only make them stronger, more resilient, and ready to take on the world; and I cannot wait to see how each of them impacts the world!

Casey Wall, Assistant Dean of Students & Director of Residential Services 



Only at WPI can our students take a global pandemic and turn it into an opportunity to push the limits of what we can do and how we can learn together. It has been truly humbling to learn alongside them as we figured out how to navigate a new paradigm in education—TechFlex! The Class of 2021 been able to master technical theories, collaborate on real world experiments without being in the same room, and communicate this knowledge with technical mastery via every written, oral, or video platform conceivable. I couldn’t be prouder that they will be the ones to take on whatever the world brings next. 

Andrew Teixeira, Assistant Professor, Chemical Engineering



The Class of 2021 has been an inspiration, and a support, for me. At the start of the year, I questioned whether our community could return safely to campus, live and work together safely, and continue to maintain the close and caring community and excellent education, projects, and research that we have here. I anticipated that we’d be fully remote and struggling over Zoom by the middle of A-Term. Instead, the community thrived. Everyone watched out for each other’s safety and health. Together we found new ways to connect and learn and support each other. Project and research and labs were all adapted to progress under a new set of constraints. And people did all this with a deep sense of caring and kindness toward each other. As an alumnus, it made me proud and very hopeful that our graduates will leave here and be the types of leaders we need.  

Stephen J. Kmiotek, Professor of Practice, Associate Department Head, Chemical Engineering



The road to finishing this year has been tiresome and difficult. I am most proud at how our students as a collective showed up for each other. When other students at other institutions were being sent home because they were not able to show up and follow the guidelines when no one is looking, our students did so they were able to have a year together (as much as possible) as opposed to apart. It is amazing how their spirit endured and for this I will be in awe of the students who were able to fight through, to press on, and to finish strong. 

Tiffiny Butler, Teaching Professor, Biomedical Engineering, and Director, Office of Multicultural Affairs



The Class of 2021 most impresses me with their resilience and perseverance in the face of adversity.

Andrew Trapp, Associate Professor, Foisie Business School



I know I speak for all coaches and administrators when I say to this year’s graduates—and, in particular, our student-athletes—you are amazing! You represented your programs, WPI Athletics and the university with grace and pride. Your dedication, resilience and—most important—the support of one another on and off the court, field, mat, pool deck, track, water and the like, will always be a part of your legacy. Success can be measured in many ways.  Your championships, awards, rivalries and trophies speak for themselves. “It’s harder to count the successes recorded on the scoreboard of life.” Remember the training sessions, memories made with your teammates, lessons learned in triumph and in adversity, and the years of commitment to being student athletes that have strengthened your spirit. You are people of character and community, ready to make a difference in the world! Those are your greatest victories and they will serve you well in the next chapter of your journey.  

Cherise Galasso, Associate Athletic Director/Senior Women’s Administrator, Head Women’s Basketball CoachPhysical Education, Recreation & Athletics



I am so proud of the Class of 2021 for their persistence and continual support of one another. As a professor in music, it was a privilege to see these students who I had come to know over the past four years not only do the bare minimum to survive the pandemic and graduate, but they showed up to work on extra curricular projects and engaged in creative work that made all of our lives more enjoyable. Congratulations and thank you!

Joshua W. Rohde, Director of Choral Activities, Department of Humanities & Arts