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Annual Senior Athletes Banquet

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

Hilton Garden Inn
Troy, New York

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Good evening. It is a pleasure to be here to share in this celebration of athletics at Rensselaer. I always enjoy this banquet.  It seems like just yesterday that we were celebrating our seniors in 2012.  It has been an eventful year since then. I am very proud of our athletes, our athletic programs, and your athletic achievements—which are myriad.  I am happy to convey my congratulations to those being inducted into Olympia, the Rensselaer student-athlete honor society, and those who have won awards this year.

Appropriately, the word athlete comes to us from a Greek word meaning “to contend for a prize.” Ever since the days of ancient Greece, athletic competition and physical training have been held in high esteem. And, for centuries, sports have been associated closely with academic endeavor and mental training. In fact, in Europe, especially in Germany, our word gymnasium is really the Latin form of a Greek word denoting a high school or academy designed to prepare students for university admission.

You, Rensselaer’s premiere athletes, have been contending—and excelling—in both the physical and the intellectual arenas. And what you have won for yourselves is far more important than any prize we could bestow on you tonight.

Your hard-earned knowledge is its own very special sort of trophy. You have learned endurance and determination. You have learned how to overcome adversity and how to persevere. You have learned how to take risks as individuals, and how to play as a team. You have learned how to triumph graciously, and how to hold your heads high in defeat. By succeeding while remaining grounded, by losing and coming back to play again, you have learned how to win, not just in sports, but in life. That is a prize that will never tarnish and one that can never be taken from you.

Later this evening, your coaches will draw attention to many specific accomplishments. But before they do, I would like to draw attention to a few statistics that I find particularly praiseworthy. Student-athletes at Rensselaer continue to shine academically.

  • You posted an average grade point average of 3.16 for the fall 2012 term. As has been true so often, that average is better than the GPA of non-athletes, which was 3.12.
  • In the same term, 39 student-athletes earned a perfect 4.0 average.
  • 193 of you were named to the Liberty League All-Academic squad in 2012-2013, an honor that requires at least a 3.2 average.

This year, there is no need for me to go to professional sports for stories of inspiration. Your class—the first to enjoy four years of athletics supported by the East Campus Athletic Village—has demonstrated remarkable flexibility, perseverance, and community mindedness. You have distinguished yourselves as ambassadors of Rensselaer, on and off the playing field, and your accomplishments have made us proud.

As teams, you have adjusted and persevered through numerous coaching changes. As individuals, you have endured personal setbacks and serious injuries. Civil Engineering student Sarah Wetmore comes to mind. Sidelined, for a year, by a devastating knee injury, Sarah came charging back to set records in her chosen sport of basketball.

And there is Grant Rosener—he gave up football because of the risk of concussions, but he refused to give up athletics. Grant switched to golf... and proceeded to win six tournaments for Rensselaer. A business and management major, he was a member, also, of the winning undergraduate team in the 2013 Lally School Business Plan competition.

This class distinguished itself, as well, with its passionate concern for helping others. Soccer player William Keddy-Hector is just one example. William put his mechanical engineering education to work during two trips to Ghana, where he led a team in building solar reflectors for rural corn farmers. But his sights also are trained closer to home as a volunteer with the Community Library, here in Troy, and with Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic in Austin, Texas.

Final examinations begin on Monday, and, in just a little over two weeks, we will see other again at the East Campus Athletic Village—not in competition, but in celebration of your accomplishments. You have overcome challenges and sometimes adversity, and won. You have persevered. And the prize—a degree from Rensselaer—will be yours.

But, as with winning an athletic event, this prize will be the result of teamwork. Yes, it will be your individual names on the diploma, but I urge you to remember all those who helped you get to this milestone. And I encourage you to remain engaged with the Institute—to maintain your ties to friends, teammates, coaches, and teachers—as Rensselaer alumni and alumnae.

In the years ahead, you will encounter opportunity and disappointment, obstacles and helping hands. You will meet with both success and failure. But the knowledge and skill for which you have worked so hard—in the classrooms, and laboratories, and on the playing fields of Rensselaer—are yours for all time. You know how to succeed, because you have known failure. You know how to face obstacles with good cheer, and set-backs with determination. Just as importantly, you know how to succeed graciously. Wherever your life paths take you, I challenge you to take the lead, to make a difference, to lend a helping hand, and to leave the world a better place than you found it.

Thank you for inviting me to be with you, and congratulations on all of your achievements!

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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