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Welcome Remarks

Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D.
President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

OMSA Awards Ceremony
Heffner Alumni House, Great Hall
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Good afternoon and welcome to the Office of Minority Student Affairs Awards Ceremony. For more than a quarter of a century, this wonderful event has been a high point of the academic Rensselaer year. It is a time to celebrate excellence in academics, excellence in leadership, excellence in service, and excellence in personal character. In fact, these four attributes intersect, and reinforce, each other.

The men and women honored today have been chosen for their accomplishments, for their contributions to the Rensselaer community, and for their perseverance.

I offer my congratulations to each of you — and to the parents, friends, teachers, and mentors who have guided and encouraged you along the way.

On many occasions, you have heard me speak about excellence, about leadership, about service to others, about integrity and strength of character, about setting lofty goals and pushing yourselves to achieve them. Those are the basic ingredients of success and fulfillment in life.

But what about opportunity? Disappointment? Doors opened and doors closed?

These, too, shape our essential makeup and character. How well one adapts and adjusts to unanticipated setbacks and blessings can be as important as how well one plans one's future.

I am often asked about my career path.

To be honest, when I was an undergraduate student, I had no idea that one day I would be here with you. I knew that I loved science and mathematics, and that I was good at them, and, later — in college — that I wanted to pursue a career in physics. But, did I know that I would be offered the opportunity to become a professor of theoretical physics at Rutgers University? Did I realize that my interest in physics would extend into related aspects of science policy, and its impact on economic and technological development? Did I foresee that my education, preparation, and experiences would lead me to be appointed by President Bill Clinton to be the Chairman of the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, or to be the president of a major research university, or to hold any of a variety of policy-making and leadership positions which I now hold?

No. I could not have known.

No one can know for sure what opportunities life will offer. One can be sure, however, that excellent preparation, self-discipline, and good character will lead to numerous opportunities. One can be sure, in addition, that achievement in one area will lead to other, sometimes totally unanticipated, opportunities. Take great care in preparing yourselves to succeed, but remain open and interested in related areas, also, and do not limit your options by planning too rigidly.

To illustrate, I would like to relate a story — a true story — about how our grandest aspirations may by shortsighted. This is how the story goes; it is a quote:

"When I was a small boy in Kansas, a friend of mine and I went fishing, and as we sat there in the warmth of a summer afternoon on a riverbank, we talked about what we wanted to do when we grew up. I told him that I wanted to be a real major league baseball player, a genuine professional like Honus Wagner. My friend said that he'd like to be President of the United States. Neither of us got our wish."

The author of the memoir was Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe during World War II and 34th President of the United States. Eisenhower did play baseball as a young man, but he was terribly disappointed when he failed to make the varsity team at West Point. His hero, Honus Wagner, was one of the five original inductees into the Baseball Hall of Fame, a great accomplishment, but one that does not compare to the liberation of Europe.

This afternoon, we honor your accomplishments here at Rensselaer, and, in so doing, we celebrate the promise you represent of even greater accomplishments in the days and years ahead. Continue to pursue excellence in all that you do, set lofty goals, persevere through adversity, but, above all, be sure to leave yourself open to the wonderful, unexpected opportunities that await you.

Always aim high!

Source citations are available from the division of Strategic Communications and External Relations, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Statistical data contained herein were factually accurate at the time it was delivered. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute assumes no duty to change it to reflect new developments.

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