WPI Awards 955 Degrees at 141st Commencement

Ursula Burns, President of Xerox, Encourages Graduates to Embrace World’s Challenges
Media Contact
May 15, 2009

Image removed.

WORCESTER, Mass. – Today, during Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s (WPI) 141st Commencement ceremony, keynote speaker Ursula Burns, president of Xerox Corporation, implored the 955 graduating students to embrace the challenges that may face them in the "real world,” once they leave the university’s campus.

During the ceremony, which was held on the campus Quadrangle, 617 Bachelor of Science degrees, one Bachelor of Arts (the first BA awarded in WPI’s history), 312 master’s degrees, and 25 PhDs were awarded. Thousands of students, their families and friends, trustees, and other special guests were on hand to experience the inspirational messages delivered by keynote speaker Burns and WPI President and CEO Dennis D. Berkey.

Burns told the students, "Although you are about to put your toes in ‘the worst of times,’ Charles Dickens would also say that these are the ‘best of times.’ The truth is the world needs you as perhaps never before. We need passion, creativity, and drive. We need the spirit of exploration and the thirst for knowledge that you embraced here. And we need your questions and your challenges and your insights as we journey through these trying times. We’re finding that some of our old assumptions and ideas don’t work anymore, and we can use people who are willing to ask ‘why do we do it that way?’ and ‘how can we do it better?’  Build the right new roads in addition to fixing the ones in existence.”

Honorary degrees were conferred upon Helen Greiner, co-founder and former president of Bedford, Mass.-based iRobot Corp.; George C. Messenger Jr. ’51, owner and vice president of Las Vegas, Nev.-based Messenger and Associates, and a recognized authority on transient radiation effects on electronics; and Charles M. Vest, president of the National Academy of Engineering and president emeritus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Burns also received an honorary degree. She was named president, and elected to Xerox’s Board of Directors, in April 2007. As president, Burns is responsible for global research, development, engineering, marketing, and manufacturing of technology, supplies, and related services. She also oversees the company’s IT organization, corporate strategy, human resources and ethics, marketing operations, and global accounts. Burns is credited with driving a technology strategy that launched 100 new products in the last three years, giving Xerox the broadest portfolio of document management systems, software, and services in the industry. She is also credited with having helped the company through an aggressive, multibillion-dollar turnaround plan that significantly strengthened Xerox’s competitive position in the marketplace. Burns earned a bachelor’s degree from Polytechnic Institute of New York and a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Columbia University. 

In her address, Burns told students that with hard work, the graduates may actually find that opportunities are born from challenges. "That is precisely what is rolled up in your diplomas,” she said. "It’s all yours. You earned it. You deserve it. And, no one can take it away.”

The Chairman’s Exemplary Faculty Prize was presented for the third time during WPI’s 2009 Commencement. The prize was established in 2007 through the personal philanthropy of Donald K. Peterson ’71, chair of the WPI Board of Trustees. It recognizes faculty members who, as true exemplars of the university’s highest aspirations and most important qualities, excel in all relevant areas of faculty performance. One prize, in the amount of $10,000, was awarded this year to Diran Apelian, WPI’s Howmet Professor of Mechanical Engineering and director of the university’s Metal Processing Institute.

In his closing remarks, President Berkey told students that in light of today’s global recession, they are well prepared to handle the world’s challenges. "In respect of the difficult world you are about to tackle, and especially in light of the economic calamities of the past year, let me recall the words of one of my predecessors, Admiral Wat Tyler Cluverius, the seventh president of WPI, who presided during the difficult days of World War II. Speaking to WPI students in 1945, following the war’s end, he said, ‘Perhaps this is the last time you will have to rebuild a world.’

"Unfortunately for us all, the world again needs rebuilding,” President Berkey continued. "Fortunately, you are well prepared for that ominous challenge, and we know you will play a great part in the rebuilding that must be done. In so doing, set no modest goals. Take inspiration in the enduring words of your fellow alumnus Robert Goddard: ‘It is difficult to say what is impossible, for the dream of yesterday is the hope of today and the reality of tomorrow.’ Shoot for the moon, as it were.”