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

Commencement Exercises
Rensselaer at Hartford
Hartford, Connecticut

Tuesday, June 7, 2005

It is my very great pleasure to welcome you all to Rensselaer at Hartford's 48th commencement exercises, and, to join in saluting the Class of 2005. Congratulations graduates.

Most of you graduates have faced — and overcome — challenges not often encountered by traditional students. Despite the rigor of your academic programs, most of you have continued to work in highly demanding jobs, while, simultaneously, fulfilling obligations and responsibilities to your families.

In spite of these very significant challenges, you have prevailed. You have balanced the many demands upon your time, your energy, and your intellectual and emotional strength. You are to be congratulated for your remarkable achievement.

A degree from Rensselaer at Hartford requires broad support for our students from family and friends, faculty and staff. So, it is a community affair.

When I reflect upon the importance of communal support to the educational success of working professionals, I am reminded of a Filipino tradition which was celebrated last month with a banquet and cultural event on the Troy campus.

The tradition is called bayanihan, from the Filipino word bayan, meaning town, or nation, or community. Literally, the term bayanihan means being a bayan — being a community.

Historically, the concept is most dramatically demonstrated in the old Filipino tradition of neighbors helping a family which is relocating. A sufficient number of volunteers — often 20 or more people — is gathered to, literally, carry the family's house to its new location. This is accomplished by placing long bamboo poles under the structure and then carrying the house atop the bamboo frame. Everyone has a good time and at the end of the day, when the move is finished, they celebrate.

Not surprisingly, the word bayanihan has come to signify a communal spirit which enables seemingly impossible tasks.

The lessons of bayanihan are lessons from which we can all profit. I am sure there were times when you felt you had taken on an impossible task. And yet, here we are today, celebrating your successful "move" to an advanced degree. It was you who passed the examinations, and did the projects and research; you who managed to meet deadlines at your workplaces, and you who attended to your families' needs. There is no question that it was you who earned this degree. Nevertheless, your bayan — your husband or wife, your professors, your work partners and friends, your neighbors, even your children — helped to transport you to these commencement exercises. Your community helped you to accomplish a seemingly impossible task. Let us thank them.

On this day in 1876, the first Transcontinental Express train arrived in San Francisco — only 83 hours and 39 minutes after leaving New York City. The fact that one could travel from one coast to the other in less than four days was breathtaking. Last week, scientists announced that the Voyager I spacecraft was 8.7 billion miles from the sun and had entered the heliosheath, the boundary to interstellar space. The spacecraft is leaving our solar system at a speed of 3.6 astronomical units per year, or approximately 38,201 miles per hour. And, this is a craft which was launched almost 30 years ago. In the 30 years since Voyager I was launched, much has changed. Change continues.

How, then, can one prepare to lead in a world in which change may be the only sure thing? The one way to prepare for change is to embrace education as a lifelong adventure, to continue perfecting the skills and habits of mind you have developed at Rensselaer, to love the question as much as the answer, to be forever a student.

The Lebanese-born philosopher and poet Kahlil Gibran understood this when he wrote, "Perplexity is the beginning of knowledge."

Perhaps the most important attributes of tomorrow's leaders will be possession of a disciplined, well-trained mind awed by a sense of what we have yet to learn, combined with an acute, personally gained understanding of how cooperative action can accomplish seemingly impossible tasks.

Today is your day. Be proud of the degree you have earned. Be sure to thank all those who helped make this day a reality, and, in the days ahead, let wonder and community be the conditions which propel you to seize the next opportunities.

Congratulations and Godspeed.

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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