An accomplished and diversely talented group, Stevens Institute of Technology’s Class of 2019 will make their mark in AI, data science, healthcare, transportation, finance, visual arts and more.
Many will soon begin careers with industry leaders including IBM, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley and Honda. Others will pursue graduate degrees at prestigious national and international research universities. And some will spend a gap year pursuing personal passions before starting their professional lives.
To celebrate their remarkable achievements, Stevens commemorated the graduation of approximately 1,700 undergraduate and graduate students during the university’s 147th Commencement ceremonies at the Meadowlands Expo Center in Secaucus, New Jersey May 22.
Thousands of family members and friends, some who flew in from places as near as Puerto Rico and as far away as China, gathered to be part of the momentous day, which began with the undergraduate ceremony in late morning and closed with a graduate ceremony in late afternoon.
During both ceremonies, family and well-wishers made their presence and pride resoundingly felt. Unbridled applause and cheers reverberated throughout the Expo Center as the new graduates began streaming into the main hall.
Among the range of emotions graduates were feeling throughout the day, chief among them was gratitude. Some expressed it toward those who had helped them realize their educational dreams.
“I owe it to my parents who sacrificed so much for me to complete my degree, the mentors who guided me through my hardest times and decisions, and the support systems at Stevens that made it enjoyable all throughout,” said first generation senior Jose Angeles-Ovalles ’19, who is set to join EY’s IT advisory team post-graduation.
Others spoke of gratefulness for the journey.
“Every class, every club activity, every late night spent looking up at the stars above Castle Point has led to this moment. It's been a beautiful experience,” said Namankita Rana ’19, soon to be an analytics manager at American Express.
Education reformer and philanthropist urges graduates to follow their passions
The trumpet sounds signaling the Academic Procession, led by members of the Old Guard – Stevens alumni who graduated more than 50 years ago – kicked off the late-morning undergraduate ceremony.
After opening remarks from Faculty Marshal Svetlana Malinovskaya and a rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" performed by the President’s Ensemble, Stevens President Nariman Farvardin introduced Laura Bilodeau Overdeck, the 2019 undergraduate Commencement speaker as well as recipient of an honorary Stevens doctor of engineering degree.
Founder and president of the Bedtime Math Foundation, Overdeck is a leading advocate for children’s learning both inside and outside the classroom.
She began her address to the Class of 2019 by harkening back to her own graduation from Princeton University, where she earned a bachelor’s in astrophysics. Back then, she recalled, fax machines, card catalogs and encyclopedias were integral to the transmission and gathering of information: a stark contrast to the ways information is exchanged today via platforms like Twitter and YouTube.
Getting through the modern-day information jungle has never been more difficult, Overdeck pointed out, as she outlined four key ingredients to getting ideas out into the world and making a difference.
The first ingredient: Learning to communicate effectively in an oversaturated society “drowning in information.”
“You’re engineers, mathematicians, scientists. That will make you indispensable in your career, but it does not guarantee that you will be an influencer. To do that you have to get out and change minds and hearts,” Overdeck explained.
Her second, unexpected tip: Challenge ideas by being honest. Don’t breathe your own fumes, she advised, rather seek out real data that could prove your own idea won’t work.
“Build the case against it. If you pummel it and you run out of arguments and it’s still standing, then you probably have a great idea.”
And when you do have a good idea, make certain others value your work for its true worth, she said.
Lastly she urged graduates to follow their bliss when it comes to career pursuits.
“You’ll have bad days here and there, but at that higher, overarching level, at 3:00 in the morning when you lay wide awake contemplating your destiny, you should feel like you’re doing what you were meant to do.”
First in Class honorees recognized
President Farvardin offered warm words of congratulations to the three 2019 First in Class honorees who achieved the highest grade point averages among this year’s graduating class: Justin Barish, Matthew McCreesh and Carolina Velasquez.
Barish, a Kings, New York native, graduated with a bachelor’s in computer science and a master’s in cybersecurity. He will begin a career as a software engineer at Zebra Technologies, where he will focus on computer vision, machine learning and cybersecurity.
McCreesh also earned a bachelor’s in computer science. The St. James, New York native will begin his own software engineering career with Microsoft at the software giant’s headquarters in Washington state.
Carolina Velasquez plans to stay closer to home — and to Stevens. The finance major from Weehawken, New Jersey will begin a full-time position at EY in the firm’s structured finance division in New York City.
Graduate Commencement speaker tells Class of 2019 to ‘build something better’
Later in the afternoon, family members, a new group of friends and well-wishers gathered at the Expo Center for the graduate Commencement ceremony to witness nearly 1,000 graduates receiving their doctorate and master’s degrees.
A former builder who became the founder and CEO of ConnectOne Bank, one of the highest performing banks in New Jersey, Frank Sorrentino III was introduced by President Farvardin as an exemplar for Stevens graduates.
“Mr. Sorrentino’s remarkable career is a testament to the entrepreneurial spirit and problem-solving approach which are emblematic of a Stevens education,” said President Farvardin.
Sorrentino pointed out to the audience that it was 40 years ago that he received his waitlist letter by Stevens — then chose not to attend. Despite his decision, Sorrentino enjoys close ties to Stevens today. Both his sons, who were in attendance, are proud Stevens alumni.
“I guess you could say I was finally accepted, and I couldn’t be more proud to share this day with you,” he told the new graduates.
Like Overdeck, Sorrentino reflected on his own graduation and his journey toward earning an undergraduate degree in engineering.
“I started life as a builder, entered my family’s construction business, went to engineering school at night and graduated 6 ½ years later,” he recalled. “I remember my graduation, standing in my cap and gown, and holding my one-year-old son for photos.”
His early career as a builder gifted him with life lessons, or “guideposts,” that continue to shape his life, he said. Not coincidentally, the theme of Sorrentino’s address to graduates was “Building Something Better.”
Doing something different is hard, and blocking out the noise from naysayers is essential to achieving what is seemingly impossible, he said, citing ConnectOne’s IPO launch in the wake of the recent Great Recession as an example.
“We were the first bank in the nation to complete a successful IPO [at the time],” he said. “Many thought we were crazy, but I had to drown out the noise and focus on the facts.”
Be curious and see the opportunity that’s all around you, he added.
“Every day presents us with a new opportunity that can change our lives,” he said, noting that “the bigger the challenges, the bigger the opportunities.”
And lastly, he reminded graduates to never forget their moral compasses.
“There are many really smart people in this world. Not all put their talents to use for good, or for noble causes. The news is full of those who fall from grace. Mostly, those stories start with a slippery slope,” he cautioned. “What will you use for your moral compass? So now it’s time to go out and build something better. I have no doubt you will do it.”
Faculty excellence, parting words from the President
As graduate Commencement ceremonies continued, President Farvardin then conferred an honorary master of engineering degree upon an esteemed faculty member: Dr. Kishore Pochiraju, a professor of mechanical engineering and associate dean for undergraduate studies in the Schaefer School of Engineering and Science.
Additional faculty members were also recognized during the ceremony.
Dr. Christophe Pierre, provost and vice president for academic affairs, acknowledged Stevens’ world-class faculty for their teaching and research excellence, recognizing the recipients of this year’s faculty awards: Hongbin Li (Provost Award for Research Excellence); Stephanie Lee and Nicholaus Parziale (co-recipients of the Provost’s Early Career Award for Research Excellence); Anthony Pennino (Jess Davis Memorial Award for Research Excellence); Kevin Lu (Henry Morton Distinguished Teaching Professor Award); Eduardo Bonelli (Alexander Crombie Humphreys Distinguished Teaching Associate Professor Award); Lindsey Cormack (Harvey Davis Distinguished Teaching Assistant Professor Award); and Kevin Ryan (Provost Award for Excellence in Online Teaching).
In his closing remarks in both the graduate and undergraduate Commencement ceremonies, President Farvardin underscored the lasting value of a Stevens education, urging graduates to apply their newly acquired, deeper understanding of the power of technology to transform lives and society in the process of becoming the leaders the nation and the world need.
“Work toward the common good. Be selfless. Be committed. And be relentless. Our nation, our global society, and our future depend on you. Thank you in advance for the mark that you will make on our world,” concluded President Farvardin.
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