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Welcome Remarks

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

Honors Convocation
EMPAC Concert Hall, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Troy, New York

Saturday, October 20, 2012


Good morning, and welcome to the 2012 Rensselaer Honors Convocation. It is always delightful to recognize people for a job well done, and today we honor those men and women who represent the very best of Rensselaer.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of our Honors Convocation is the fact that it includes such a range of ages and accomplishments, from distinguished faculty members being named to an endowed chairs or professorships, to our Rensselaer Medalists, who were recognized for being outstanding students of mathematics and the sciences in their respective high schools—and now are enrolled in their freshman year here.  This is important because a great university is a multi-generational community of learners, engaged together to learn, to generate and disseminate new knowledge, and to use their knowledge, skills, and abilities to make a difference for themselves, and for the world.

This event endorses and affirms the idea that excellence is not a destination. Excellence is a process—dependent on making decisions throughout life to try a little harder, to find the deeper layers of concepts, to look more closely at experimental data, and to, on occasion accept the risks that come with exploration. Excellence is a mindset that many of our highest achievers adopt in childhood—in the classroom, in extra-curricular activities, or in a backyard where nature is observed.  And in such people, that drive for excellence persists through a lifetime.

To be excellent means to have high standards. Quality does not emerge from checking all the boxes. People who strive to excel go beyond what is required.

Yet, one cannot achieve distinction in isolation. As a rule, people who do brilliant work are aware of what is happening in the world around them. And they often seek out communities of similarly brilliant and ambitious people, such as the ones who chose to come here for study and for careers.

As a university, we are proud to be able to attract very accomplished and talented students and faculty. Rensselaer made a conscious decision to engender excellence by devising and adopting The Rensselaer Plan twelve years ago. It has helped to turn us into one of the world’s leading technological universities. It has filled our hallways and grounds with people who care, commit, collaborate, and succeed, and it is a great privilege to work in their company.

There is no question that The Rensselaer Plan has served us well, but the world around us has changed a great deal since it was first conceived. Our planet now faces many wrenching challenges in providing and using energy, water, and food more sustainably; in reviving the global economy in the wake of the recent financial crisis, and in improving global capital markets; and in fighting disease and injustice worldwide.

In 1999, we had a different set of resources at our disposal for taking on these challenges. There also have been shifts in the priorities of our society, and in the ways we organize ourselves for action.

Because of both the progress we have made and the changes the world has seen since The Rensselaer Plan was created, we have the opportunity now to sharpen our focus on what we will do in the coming years, especially as we anticipate Rensselaer's bicentennial.

So, we are refreshing The Rensselaer Plan, using humanity’s Global Challenges as reference points to help guide our resource allocation, and our teaching and research.

This refresh includes a university-wide conversation about our role in facing global challenges. How can we at Rensselaer contribute to improving the world’s energy security, food security, and water security, so our systems can serve an estimated 9 billion people in 2050—and serve them sustainably?

We particularly hope that today’s honorees will join in that conversation, because we are well aware that if you, our honorees, do join it, you will contribute important knowledge, ideas, and perspectives.

We are very proud to have all of you at Rensselaer. We admire your abilities and your ambition. And we believe you represent tremendous hope for progress on many fronts.

Please join me in saluting today’s honorees.

The Founders Awards of Excellence program gives us the opportunity to honor our students early in their time at Rensselaer. Today we salute these students and extend to them a special welcome into our community of scholars.

The winners of the Founders Awards of Excellence are nominated by their respective schools because they embody the qualities of creativity, discovery, leadership, pride, and responsibility—qualities that mark them as intellectual leaders at Rensselaer.

The deans now will present the winners of the Founders Awards of Excellence from their respective schools. Please hold your applause until the orator has finished reading the names of winners in each school.

Thank you for joining us today to salute the achievements of these outstanding members of our community.

The Honors Convocation is an important event at Rensselaer. It demonstrates that we hold academic achievement in the highest esteem.

It expresses our heartfelt desire to celebrate and take pride in the contributions that our faculty and students make to the intellectual life of this university and the betterment of the world.

In short, with our Honors Convocation, we reaffirm the very essence of who we are and the vital role we are playing in the 21st century.

Let us rise now as the Rusty Pipes sing the Alma Mater. Please join them the second time through.

I ask that you remain standing until the academic procession has left the room. Please join us for a Reception after the ceremony on the 5000 and 7000 levels outside of the Concert Hall.

Thank you!


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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