They say college is the adventure of a lifetime. It finished fittingly for the Stevens Institute of Technology Class of 2012, who concluded their collegiate careers with a mini-adventure involving torrential rain, roaring thunder and a last-second venue switch before they finally received their long-awaited diplomas.
On the morning of May 24, 2012, trumpeters signaled the start of Stevens’ 140th Commencement, heralding a momentous day for a new group of approximately 1,600 graduates at the bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. levels, who received their diplomas during a series of ceremonies throughout the day amidst thousands of relatives and friends – all somewhat damp but nonetheless proud.
The undergraduate Commencement came first, in what started as a steady drizzle over the attendees, who huddled in their seats under the large tent at DeBaun Athletic Complex sporting ponchos and carrying umbrellas.
After the Class of 2012 academic procession, Stevens student Michael Paulauski ’14 sang a stirring rendition of the national anthem, followed by the invocation by Reverend Mary Forell, pastor at St. Matthew Trinity Lutheran Church, and words of welcome from Faculty Marshal Ted Stohr, professor in the Howe School of Technology Management.
Next, Nariman Farvardin took the stage to preside over his first Commencement as president of Stevens.
“Graduates, we are here in this magnificent gathering only for one reason: to celebrate your success,” said Farvardin. “Today is truly your day. For all that you have achieved, we congratulate you and wish you the best as you commence the next phase of your journey in life.”
After thanking the family and friends, teachers and mentors, and Stevens alumni in attendance, Farvardin introduced the 2012 undergraduate Commencement speaker – Stevens alumnus Greg Gianforte, who also accepted an honorary Doctor of Engineering degree from Lawrence Babbio, Jr., chairman of the Board of Trustees. Gianforte is founder of RightNow Technologies – a cloud-based customer service and support solutions firm which he sold to Oracle for $1.5 billion – and a serial entrepreneur in the computer networking and software industries.
Gianforte had just began to speak to the graduates about the value of a Stevens education before he was interrupted by lightning and thunder and the ceremony had to be put on hold while the attendees sought shelter. It picked up right where it left off approximately 90 minutes later in Canavan Arena for the graduates from the Schaefer School of Engineering and Science (SES) and their guests. To accommodate safely for the amount of guests in attendance, graduates and guests from the College of Arts and Letters (CAL), the School of Systems and Enterprises (SSE) and the Howe School of Technology Management waited slightly longer for a separate ceremony to restart in DeBaun Auditorium.
Gianforte, who delivered his speech at both venues, continued by outlining three key advantages that Stevens provided him when he entered the workforce – a strong work ethic, a real-world focus and a code of honor.
“Nothing could have prepared me better than Stevens’ broad-based, problem-solving curriculum,” he said.
Gianforte also shared four lessons for leading a satisfied and content-filled life, drawing from his own personal and professional achievements throughout his post-Stevens journey. He encouraged the graduates to seek out challenging work, to choose a career that requires them to use their innate skills and proficiencies, to understand and connect to the noble purpose of the work that they do, and to pick a career with the highest possible noble purpose.
“You may have thought that the lessons were over now that you have graduated, but they are only just beginning,” he said.
An address from 2012 valedictorian Robert Williams followed Gianforte’s speech. Williams, who will soon begin his career as a software engineer, graduated with dual B.S. and M.S. degrees in Computer Science and a near-perfect GPA.
Williams urged his classmates to get their priorities straight as early as possible so they don’t waste a good portion of their lives on things that do not matter in the long-term, such as the pursuit of power and riches.
“There is one priority that I think works for all of us – our relationships,” he said. “The impact that we make on other people’s lives lasts for the long-term.”
Remarks by Farvardin followed, with the president encouraging the graduates to “think big and shoot for the stars,” to not let disappointments influence their determination to succeed, and to always carry out their duties with “integrity, honesty and the highest ethical standards.”
Finally, this year’s accomplished undergraduate degree recipients, smartly dressed in cap and gown, filed on stage for receive their diplomas from the deans of each school. Cheers arose from the crowd as the last name was called, and everyone took part in the singing of the Stevens Alma Mater.
Later in the day, predicted inclement weather also forced this year’s Ph.D. and master’s degree graduates to divide between three venues for the graduate Commencement ceremonies. One event took place in Canavan Arena for all Ph.D. candidates as well as SES graduates and graduates from the Howe School’s Information Systems program. A ceremony for all other Howe School graduates was held in DeBaun Auditorium, and a ceremony for the School of Systems and Enterprises was held in Burchard 118.
This year’s graduate Commencement speaker for the event in Canavan Arena was Dr. Jeong Kim, president of Bell Labs, one of the world's foremost centers of research in communications technologies, and a distinguished engineering entrepreneur with notable business and technical successes. He addressed the crowd after accepting a Doctor of Engineering honorary degree.
Kim, who also spoke at Farvardin’s inauguration in October 2011, discussed the necessity of the graduates’ working hard to achieve their goals, but at the same time recognizing their own shortcomings and seeking out help to overcome them.
“The trick is to surround yourself with people who complement your skill sets,” he said. “Because in real life, as an engineer or a businessman, or most of the vocations you have in mind, very few things can be accomplished by yourself. In real life, success often takes a team effort.”
To the amusement of the crowd, he spoke about how he is working to overcome one of his own weaknesses – ironically, giving scripted speeches – by working with a speech coach.
Kim also urged the graduates to set challenging goals that ignite their passion and sustain their energy, and then fully commit themselves to achieving them. He said this principle has helped him achieve his own degree of success, personally and professionally.
After Kim’s speech and Farvardin’s subsequent remarks, the program continued with the conferment of graduate degrees, presented by the deans.
At the separate Howe and SSE graduate ceremonies, the keynote speakers were Jim Walsh and Nan Mattai, respectively. Walsh, an alumni (B.S., M.S. in Physics, 1969), is managing principal of Walsh Advisors, LLC and a member of the Stevens Board of Trustees. Mattai is senior vice president, Engineering & Technology for Rockwell Collins.
Stevens’ 35 doctoral degree candidates also participated in a special Ph.D. hooding ceremony one day prior to the main Commencement events.
Read full coverage of Stevens’ 140th Commencement here.