With Commencement week in full swing, two events honor seniors in very special and separate ways this Friday, May 13.
At noon, the ROTC Commissioning Ceremony takes place on the Quad. This year Congressional Medal of Honor recipient retired U.S. Navy Captain Thomas G. Kelley will preside over the ceremony as the commissioning officer.
With the formality fitting the occasion, 27 candidates will be commissioned into full active members of the U.S. military, including branches of the Army, Navy, and Air Force. The tradition includes taking the oath of office, official pinning presentation, and retiring of the colors.
Kelley comes to WPI at the invitation of Lt. Col. Michael DeRosa, Commander, Detachment 340 Air Force ROTC; Air Force and Aerospace Studies department head; and a professor of Aerospace Studies. DeRosa is honored to have Kelley preside over the ceremony, he says, “Each commissioning officer brings something special to the ceremony.”
As a Medal of Honor recipient, Kelley embodies the commitment, leadership, modesty, honor, and respect for his job that DeRosa knows will inspire the candidates. Kelley will stay for an informal post-ceremony gathering with the newly minted officers and their families. “He will encourage our newest officers to do great things in a world where there is no shortage of challenges,” says DeRosa.
“This is the end of their college undergraduate studies, but the beginning of something bigger,” says DeRosa of the candidates who come from WPI, Holy Cross, UMass Lowell, Fitchburg State University, and Worcester State University. “They have met all the requirements to become officers and now they truly get the chance to serve and have a wonderful career.”
At 5:30 p.m., the annual Baccalaureate event begins with a procession of administration, led by President Laurie Leshin, of provosts, deans, and faculty in full regalia, according to Jim McLaughlin, assistant dean of student programs, director of the Rubin Campus Center, and advisor to the Senior Baccalaureate Committee.
Traditionally a night by and for the graduating class, Baccalaureate is a collection of shared remembrances, musical and dance performances, exciting proclamations, blessings, and camaraderie. This year’s Baccalaureate Committee is headed up by Meagan Hiatt. The group began work in October to choose student speakers and performers and to invite a special guest inspirational speaker—typically an alum who comes back to share memories with the graduating class.
Hiatt says that as the ceremony caps off four years of being together as a class, it’s a bittersweet time for reflection. “The Baccalaureate celebrates both the undergraduate years and what soon-to-be graduates will do in the future,” she says. “As it’s the last night before everyone graduates, it’s the last day each senior will be an undergraduate. While every senior is excited to complete college and move onto the next chapter of their lives, it’s also the end of a chapter for us.”
This year, the committee invited Scott Harris ’82, founder of industry-leading computer-aided design company SolidWorks, who started out at Pratt & Whitney before a decade of leading teams at Computervision. He will share his WPI memories and to talk a little about the impact he has made on the world.
A 2012 recipient of the Robert H. Goddard Award for Outstanding Professional Achievement, Harris has been involved in extensive philanthropy efforts, including the Rwanda Innovation Endowment Fund and the Central Mass Search and Rescue Team, and has raised millions of dollars for cancer research through Team SolidWorks, a cycling organization he co-founded.
As the class comes together for one of the last times, Hiatt hopes graduates will enjoy all the evening offers. “This ceremony offers a time to reflect on our time at WPI as well as gain inspiration for the future.”
The evening’s program also includes reflections by seniors Elizabeth Schofield and Brigitte Perera. Schofield will reflect on her WPI memories beginning with the very first days of New Student Orientation when the class played chicken volleyball and human foosball before progressing to the very serious work of making wind turbines and robots.
Perera will speak of the opportunities, challenges, and change that she found at WPI, and how the past four years allowed the students to grow into their true selves.
Doug Weeks, associate department head of humanities and arts, will conduct the WPI Orchestra for the Processional and Recessional and the WPI Brass Ensemble in a musical performance. The Committee was tasked with choosing performers for Baccalaureate and decided on an a cappella group of nine students from Alden Voices and the Glee Club who will sing “Song of Purple Summer” by Duncan Sheik. Xinyang Guan will perform “Jing Hong Dance,” a Chinese traditional dance.
“The ceremony has a unique format that involves students sharing their personal reflections and thoughts on the night before Commencement,” says McLaughlin. “There are many programs with speeches and others with music and dance throughout the year, but combining speech and music and dance makes it unique,” says McLaughlin. “And it makes it special because the students plan it. They participate as they prepare to become the new alumni.”
– BY JULIA QUINN-SZCESUIL