The Stevens Institute of Technology community celebrated the achievements of more than 1,600 graduate and undergraduate students at the university’s 142nd Commencement this week. The May 21st ceremonies were held at the IZOD Center at East Rutherford, New Jersey for the second year in a row.
Commencement is typically a day that looks forward, as students make the transition to becoming alumni and begin their professional lives. The day, however, was also a day that honored those who came before them. In one of the more poignant moments of the ceremony, World War II veteran and former Stevens student Kenneth deFerrari was presented with an honorary bachelor of engineering degree by Stevens President Nariman Farvardin. Mr. deFerrari attended Stevens in the 1950s to study metallurgy, while working at an iron foundry in Mahwah, New Jersey. A job transfer forced him to withdraw from Stevens, just shy of obtaining the necessary credits for graduation. When presented with the framed diploma, Mr. deFerrari, who was given a rousing standing ovation, was visibly moved by the recognition, which came more than 60 years after his departure from Stevens.
The graduate Commencement ceremony in the morning kicked off the momentous day as family members and friends beamed with pride as approximately 1,100 degrees were awarded to doctoral and master’s candidates.
Spyros M. Polemis (’61), a Stevens graduate and a member of the Stevens Board of Trustees, traveled from England to deliver the graduate Commencement address. The chairman and managing director of Seacrest Shipping Company, Ltd., noted that the day, for him, marked a pinnacle in his illustrious career, having come full circle from receiving his undergraduate degree more than 50 years prior to now receiving the honorary doctor of engineering degree. Born in Greece into a family of seafarers, Polemis said he always knew what he wanted to do in life, which was to work as an engineer in the shipping industry. He advised graduates to do likewise by "choosing to do what you like” and to be “happy at your work.” In their pursuit of loftier achievements, he urged graduates to avoid seeking superficial knowledge and to gain an intimate knowledge of issues. “You will gain tremendous satisfaction from knowing the subject in depth, because when you speak with authority, you will quickly gain respect, and before you even realize it, your colleagues will be urging you to the top. You will be a leader, if not the leader.”
Polemis has been a staunch supporter of his alma mater throughout his accomplished life, and his own example served as a reminder to graduates to never forget Stevens. “Stay engaged, stay connected, and spread the word about the excellent education that Stevens provides, remembering to give back to future generations, so Stevens students can have the opportunities that you have enjoyed,” he said.
Later in the afternoon, the IZOD Center was again filled with excitement and anticipation as family members, friends and well-wishers gathered for the undergraduate Commencement ceremony. The undergraduate Class of 2014 continued a tradition that began last year of arriving at the arena by rail on their own “graduation train.” The procession of approximately 550 Stevens undergraduates was greeted with thunderous applause and exuberant cheers.
Among the undergraduates receiving their bachelor's degrees was Jay Weinberg, son of Max Weinberg, drummer for the E Street Band, which is most famous for playing with Bruce Springsteen. The father, also known for his comedic talents as the bandleader for Conan O'Brien, was on stage to present the degree to his son.
Maggie S. Wilderotter, chairman and CEO of Frontier Communications Corporation, addressed the Class of 2014. Although a graduate of the College of Holy Cross, the New Jersey native has Stevens history in her family. Two of her uncles—Bob Sullivan, Class of 1943 and former New Jersey Departmental Protection Commissioner Richard Sullivan, Class of 1943—were proud alumni. Sharing a childhood memory of a trip to Stevens she had taken with her father, Wilderotter mused aloud what could have been had she attended Stevens. She even joked that with an honorary doctorate from Stevens to go along with her Holy Cross degree, she may now have a future.
The message that echoed throughout her speech was to be brave—“brave enough to take a chance, to do the right thing, to know that leadership and humility are not exclusive."
Speaking to a room full of engineers, Wilderotter said that at her telecommunications company, the most important asset is not technology, but its employees. “Technology is simply a tool used by great people to serve others," she said. “Appreciate the significance of the work you do, but never lose sight of its beneficiaries. Living a purpose-driven life and making sure what you do counts for others, provides rewards that are much more meaningful than financial wealth."
Stevens’ Class of 2014 valedictorian Laura Lemke, who graduated with a bachelor’s in civil engineering and a master’s in ocean engineering with a 3.991 grade point average, evoked the theme of hard work and transformation. Looking back on her shyness and quiet personality when she first arrived at Stevens, she marveled at how she could now stand before a large audience to deliver a two-minute speech. “I believe each of us sitting here right now is not the same person who walked under that castle gate the first time," she said. "How we have grown individually at Stevens is sure to take us to the highest stars.” The advice Lemke shared with her graduating classmates is the advice imparted to her by a coach. "Do what you love. Love what you do," she said. "Anything we choose to do, whether career or personally-related, will require hard work.”
In his final remarks in both the graduate and undergraduate Commencement ceremonies, President Farvardin encouraged the graduating class to make a difference to those people and those causes that they care deeply about, and to leave their communities and the world a better place than they found it.
The graduating class of 2014 will have an opportunity to begin the next phase of their lives as Stevens alumni in less than 10 days at Alumni weekend, where they can reunite with friends and classmates, and share in the excitement of Stevens’ future.