Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) began its 148th Commencement celebrations with the graduate students' ceremony, awarding 740 master's and doctoral degrees. This was WPI's first-ever graduate commencement, a reflection of the growing stature of its graduate programs, which have expanded substantially—in size, diversity, and international recognition.
France Córdova, director of the National Science Foundation (NSF), addressed the graduating class and received an honorary doctor of science degree. As director, Córdova oversees the largest federal agency that supports research and education across all fields of science and engineering. She previously served as NASA’s Chief Scientist.
In her remarks, Córdova paid tribute to the university’s celebrated history with the aerospace industry. “It is special to be here at WPI where, over 100 years ago, Robert Goddard was a student,” she said. “Goddard is credited with ushering in the Space Age, and I have been privileged to explore the universe with the tools he developed.”
Córdova urged the Class of 2016 to draw on Goddard’s example of perseverance, despite setbacks and public ridicule. “The path to realizing your dream, to making a difference, is often not an easy one and not a straight path,” she told them, “Prepare to be surprised—not at world events or at the fortunes of others—but surprised at yourself. Follow your instincts; you are the pathfinder.”
Córdova also commended WPI for being a leader in project-based and team-oriented education. “In science and engineering today there is a new emphasis on convergence, that is, bringing all the specialized disciplinary knowledge together to make new discoveries and invent new things. You graduates represent arts, humanities, engineering, and business. You’ll likely find yourselves working more in teams, very much like the project teams for which WPI is famous.”
She concluded with a charge to the graduates: “Today is your day to begin your own imaginative journey.”
The crowd of more than two thousand also heard messages from WPI president Laurie A. Leshin and 2016 Graduate Commencement student speaker Shaymus Hudson.
President Leshin made special note of the first-ever graduate commencement ceremony. "This is a critical and important moment in our history. Our graduate programs have grown significantly since 1898 when five esteemed students at WPI received their master's degrees. Today we confer 740 graduate degrees, including 35 PhDs. We've come a long way." Leshin also highlighted the 200 students receiving graduate degrees through the university’s corporate and professional education programs, saying, "I am especially proud that WPI has partnered with companies, local and global, to enable their employees to be lifelong learners—something so critical for success in today's dynamic world."
Graduate class speaker Shaymus Hudson of Buena Vista, Va., who received his PhD in Materials Science and Engineering, quoted Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to climb Mount Everest, in his congratulations to fellow graduates. "'It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.' Today you sit here having climbed the heights of academia, and so have also conquered yourselves." Hudson urged his classmates to continue their ascent. "As newly minted doctors of philosophy and master's recipients, you must be the leaders, for you have demonstrated a mastery of that one most essential skill, not to be underestimated, the ability to think, to consider the global and the long term and not just the here and now, to understand what innovation and impact truly mean."
The Thursday ceremony also included a brief tribute to Phil Ryan '65, who will retire on June 30 after serving 17 years on the WPI Board of Trustees, including two years as chairman. Ryan also served as interim president of the university in the 2013–14 academic year during a nationwide search that led to President Leshin's appointment.
Undergraduate commencement exercises will be held on Saturday, May 14 at 10 a.m. Nearly 900 students will receive bachelor's degrees; honorary degrees will be awarded to Warner Fletcher, David Schwaber, and keynote speaker Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of Girls Who Code.