Eight Commencement celebrations — four undergraduate, three graduate and for the first time, a separate a Ph.D. Commencement ceremony — capped off a year like no other in Stevens’ history. Instead of a traditional one-day Commencement with two ceremonies, as in years past, the series of celebrations was held over three days to ensure social distancing in accordance with the State of New Jersey and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) COVID-19 guidelines.
Proud family members and friends cheered on the graduates, some in person at the Meadowlands Expo Center and others via livestream across the country and around the world. Spirits were high at the culmination of a challenging year, as graduates look forward to new and exciting pursuits. Many are moving on to careers in a wide range of industries including business and finance, bioengineering, defense, pharmaceutical engineering, robotics and more, while others will continue their education at graduate school.
Yanxia Lin, who earned her doctorate in environmental engineering, will soon begin her new job as a staff engineer at Haley & Aldrich, a New York City-based environmental consulting firm. While she was disappointed her family couldn’t share her special day in person, she was grateful that they could watch virtually.
“My family is in China and they could not travel at this time, but my best friends from Stevens are here,” she said, adding that the friends and mentors she’s met during her time at Stevens have made it her “home away from home.”
Kenneth Asah was excited that his family was able to attend the ceremony where he received the diploma that made his master’s degree in construction engineering and management official. His parents and two brothers traveled from his hometown in Ghana to celebrate the occasion with him.
“I’m proud of myself for taking the chance of going to another land where things are completely different and still being able to keep my head right in this,” said Asah, who graduated with an impressive 3.93 grade-point average.
President Congratulates “Next Generation of Pioneers, Innovators and Global Citizens”
The Commencement ceremonies began with a processional video of candidates as President Nariman Farvardin, Provost Christophe Pierre and a member of the Stevens Board of Trustees — different for each ceremony — took the stage. Their entrance was followed by a performance of the national anthem pre-recorded by the President’s Ensemble.
In his opening remarks, President Farvardin congratulated graduates on their hard-won achievements during unprecedented times.
“The past year has undoubtedly been a time of tremendous disruption and generation-defining change,” he said. “You have proven yourselves to be adaptable, tenacious and resilient in the face of many unexpected challenges, and you have persevered.”
He assured graduates that they now possessed the education, experience, wisdom and determination to overcome whatever obstacles they may face and to make important contributions to society.
“You are well prepared to recognize and take advantage of all the world will offer you in your professional and personal lives,” he said, “to identify and solve the thorny problems we face as a society, and to be the next generation of pioneers, technology innovators and global citizens that our world needs.”
Healthcare Leader Encourages Graduates to Challenge Themselves, Seek Out Diverse Experiences
At the Undergraduate Commencement ceremony, President Farvardin introduced speaker Giovanni Caforio, M.D., board chair and CEO of Bristol Myers Squibb. For his commitment to transforming patients’ lives through science and advocacy, Dr. Caforio was awarded the Doctor of Philosophy, Honoris Causa.
In his keynote address, Caforio urged graduates to build upon the foundation they established at Stevens and to seek out as many experiences as possible to acquire diversity of thought and grow as scholars, professionals and people.
Sharing his own career journey from medicine to leading a global biopharmaceutical company, Dr. Caforio said that growth requires risk-taking.
“I want to be honest and tell you this is not always easy,” he said. “It is not easy to move out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself in different ways. But remember this: growth and comfort are incompatible.”
While Caforio acknowledged the importance of a fulfilling professional life, he advised graduates to invest in their personal relationships as well. “Decide which values are most important to you and never deviate from them,” he said. “Grow personally to grow professionally. Become a better person to be a better leader.”
Nine First-in-Class Graduates Honored
Nine students in the Class of 2021 shared the distinction of attaining perfect 4.0 GPAs, the highest number of first-in-class honorees in Stevens history. Sarah Bertussi, Ivana Bozinovska, Michael Di Pentima, Alexis Fryc, Kevin Gmelin, Ian Kruithof, Ryan Ludemann, Stephen Lysak and Ian Mauser were all recognized for the achievement. Each student recorded a speech, available online; for the undergraduate ceremony, a compilation video made of up excerpts of these speeches was shown to fellow graduates and attendees in the venue.
During their time at Stevens, the students’ collective experiences include clubs and honor societies, research and study abroad. They also participated in internships in organizations including Booz Allen Hamilton, Lockheed Martin, Merck, Panasonic and Walt Disney World.
Sarah Bertussi, who earned both Bachelor of Engineering and Master of Engineering degrees, credited Stevens for making life-changing internship experiences possible and remarked on the unwavering support and encouragement of mentors such as Dean of Students Kenneth Nilsen.
“That desire to support one another is something I see constantly, and is one of the things that made my time at Stevens special to me — someone always had your back and wanted to see you make it just as much as you wanted to,” she said.
Other first-in-class honorees also expressed gratitude for support received during their Stevens years.
“The community at Stevens is truly special, and for me personally, the passion and care of those in the music and technology program will stick with me for the rest of my life,” said Stephen Lysak, who earned a bachelor’s degree in the program.
Michael Di Pentima, who earned a bachelor’s degree in quantitative finance, urged graduates, no matter what their next destinations, to continue to fight for their dreams.
“Promise me … that no matter what life throws your way, be it joy or strife, hell or high water, or, yes, even a global pandemic, you will continue to press forward and strive to make your dreams a reality.”
Rising above Adversity, Leading with Compassion
Dr. Allan E. Goodman, president of the Institute of International Education (IIE), delivered the keynote address at the graduate ceremonies as well as the 2021 Ph.D. Commencement. For his many contributions in international relations and education, Goodman was also awarded the Doctor of Philosophy, Honoris Causa.
In his speech to the new graduates, Goodman considered the COVID-19 pandemic and the effect it has had on the state of the world.
“We know that [historically] international education and exchanges actually continue during pandemics and substantially grow afterwards,” he said. “This pandemic will also end, and as it does, will reinforce the message that science and learning from all over the world will have saved us.”
He added that the pandemic provided opportunities for graduates to rise above adversity and to practice compassion, a hallmark of a Stevens education.
Goodman also acknowledged members of the Stevens community who volunteered to help local businesses, improve hybrid education models and assist people in locating sites for COVID-19 testing and inoculations.
He concluded his speech with Stevens’ Latin motto “per aspera ad astra”— “through adversity to the stars” — calling it particularly apt for the times. “This class certainly knows adversity at first-hand, but you also know the stars by which to navigate as we push to the finish line.”
Recognizing Faculty Excellence — and the Promise of the Class of 2021
Dr. Christophe Pierre, provost and vice president for academic affairs, expressed confidence in the graduates’ future success and asked them to stay connected with professors and mentors who guided them along their academic journeys.
“Our professors are driving Stevens forward, building its reputation as a university dedicated to the development of knowledge and the application of technology toward addressing complex challenges and contributing to human progress,” he said.
In recognition of faculty excellence, Trustee Joseph DiPompeo, on behalf of the Stevens Board of Trustees, conferred an honorary Master of Engineering degree upon an esteemed faculty member: Souran Manoochehri, chair of the university's Department of Mechanical Engineering.
Pierre also acknowledged the recipients of this year’s faculty awards: Antonia Zaferiou (Early Career Award for Research Excellence); Brendan Englot (Award for Research Excellence); Hongjun Wang (Jess Davis Memorial Award for Research Excellence); Ying Wu (Harvey N. Davis Distinguished Teaching Assistant Professor Award); Patricia Muisener (Alexander Crombie Humphreys Distinguished Teaching Associate Professor Award); Leslie Brunell (Henry Morton Distinguished Teaching Professor Award); Lindsey Cormack (Award for Excellence in Online Teaching); and Dibyendu “Dibs” Sarkar (Award for Distinguished University Service).
As graduates turned their tassels and took their place among more than 50,000 Stevens alumni around the world, they parted with the encouragement and inspiring words of President Farvardin:
“Your time at Stevens has shaped the person you are today,” he said. “But you now are equipped to shape your future. Whatever your future holds, I am sure of one thing. You will step up to any challenge and create a better future for all of us."