WORCESTER, Mass. – Today, Worcester Polytechnic Institute's (WPI) 140th Commencement ceremony was held on the campus Quadrangle where 738 Bachelor of Science degrees, 333 master's degrees, and 18 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 Jeffrey R. Immelt, chairman and CEO of General Electric Co. (GE), and WPI President and CEO Dennis D. Berkey. In addition, it was announced during today's ceremonies that the GE Corporation has made a $100,000 donation to support the expansion and operations of WPI's Cape Town Project Center, which is run by the university's Interdisciplinary and Global Studies Division (IGSD).
Honorary degrees were conferred upon Woodie Flowers, Pappalardo professor of mechanical engineering, emeritus, at Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Richard W. Lyman, president emeritus of Stanford University, J. E. Wallace Sterling Professor of Humanities Emeritus, and FSI Senior Fellow in Stanford's History Department; and Elizabeth J. "Jing" Lyman, social entrepreneur, and founder and co-chair of the National Coalition for Women's Enterprise.
Immelt also received an honorary degree. GE, founded 130 years ago, is one of the nation's most legendary companies. Its product line spans jet engines, locomotives, energy production, commercial and consumer finance, health care equipment, home appliances, and entertainment (as the parent company of NBC Universal). Immelt, 52, was appointed the ninth chairman of GE in September 2001. Under Immelt's leadership, GE was one of the first corporations to publicly launch a viable business strategy to address the world's need for sustainable energy and environmentally advanced technology. Immelt, who TIME magazine named in its May 12, 2008 issue as one of the "100 Most Influential People in the World," joined GE in 1982 and has held a variety of global leadership posts, including roles in GE's plastics, appliance, and medical businesses. He became an officer of GE in 1989, joined the GE Capital Board in 1997, and was named president and chief executive officer in 2000, succeeding Jack Welch. Immelt earned a bachelor's degree in applied mathematics from Dartmouth College in 1978 and an MBA from Harvard University in 1982.
A component of GE's citizenship strategy is Developing Health Globally, GE's signature program that aims to improve healthcare delivery for some of the world's most vulnerable populations. The program began in 2004 as a $20 million product donation investment in rural African communities and has since expanded to a five-year, $30 million commitment across 11 countries in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. In 2007, the GE family contributed more than $210 million to community and educational programs, including $93 million from the GE Foundation.
In his address, Immelt challenged students to put the theories they have learned into practice and to address the challenges that limit America's competiveness – the need for clean energy and affordable health care as well as growing economic disparities. Immelt encouraged the graduates to address these innovations through innovation, determination, global integration, and compassion.
"It is an honor to address the students of WPI, an institution that shares our commitment in solving some of the world's most complex problems," said Immelt. "Through its focus on energy resources, water conservation, and the provision of housing, health care, and other issues of sustainability to underdeveloped areas, the Cape Town Project Center aligns very well with our own citizenship efforts taking place in emerging markets."
The Chairman's Exemplary Faculty Prize was also presented for the second time during WPI's 2008 Commencement. The prize was established last year through the personal philanthropy of Donald K. Peterson '71, current 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. Two prizes, each in the amount of $10,000, were awarded this year to David S. Adams, professor of biology and biotechnology; and Alexander E. Emanuel, professor of electrical and computer engineering.
In his closing remarks, President Berkey told students to take bold strides in their life, to use their intellectual power to its utmost, and "Do not go quietly. Question everything, remembering and using the critical skills that you have developed in your courses and projects and in your debates with faculty and fellow students.
"Use your talents wisely—helping to address and resolve the major threats and opportunities in our world," President Berkey continued. "Turn the dream of yesterday and hope of today into the reality of tomorrow."
President Berkey also noted the centennial of Dr. Robert H. Goddard's graduation from WPI. "Take pride in knowing that you follow in his extraordinary footsteps," he told the students, referring to the father of modern rocketry. "Seek inspiration in his enduring words: '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."