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CRDF Global Award Dinner

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

Ronald Reagan Building Pavilion
Washington, DC

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


It is a great honor for me to speak to the person, Dr. Charles M. Vest — “Chuck”, to most of us — President of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering, and President Emeritus of my alma mater, MIT.

I first met Chuck 22 years ago when I had the pleasure, as a member of the MIT Corporation, to elect Chuck as President of MIT.  From the beginning, it was clear that this was an unusual man, who clearly had great talent, but at the same time a centeredness about him and an empathy for others. 

Chuck has an enormous capacity to cover a wide intellectual and social range.  We have seen that in the activities that he has been engaged in on the global stage, as well as in his specific focus at MIT – whether looking at US Intelligence capacity, the future of higher education, or increasing the racial and cultural diversity of MIT.

When Chuck spoke, as President of MIT, at my inauguration as the President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, he said, in a tongue-and-cheek manner, something like the following:

“Among your roles will be fund-raiser, budget cutter, parental substitute, politically correct and hip leader, towering public figure, and just one of the guys!” And, you know what... he was describing himself... because he has done all of these things, and more, over the course of his career.

He always has demonstrated courage, knowledge, compassion, generosity, and, of course, wisdom.

He has been a powerful proponent of innovation, carefully articulating the need for investment, in and commitment to, innovation. And an equally powerful advocate for engineering education.

But perhaps nothing illustrates who he is more than the ability to call on Chuck when one is facing a major life decision. When I was considering, in 1995, whether to accept an appointment by President Clinton to be Commissioner and Chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, I called Chuck, because I valued his wisdom and his understanding of me as a person.  True to who he is, Chuck did not try to tell me to do that, or not to do that, but, rather, he took the time to talk me through all of the various elements of such a decision — the career opportunities and risks, and the life choices relevant to our family.  In the end, I accepted the appointment. I have not looked back. I can summarize Chuck in this way:  He explores issues and opportunities through thoughtful consultation, probing questions, and listening to a variety of perspectives. Chuck is what I call an even man who invariably seeks a balanced approach — always weighing those things that are most important nationally and professionally with what is important personally.

There is a quote in the great Harper Lee novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, that speaks to integrity, and I quote, “Atticus Finch is the same in his house as he is on the public streets.”

Chuck Vest is the same in his house as he is in the public square. He truly is a man of integrity, and an inspiration to me and, I am sure, to all who have the privilege of knowing him.

It is my great pleasure to be here to honor Dr. Charles M. Vest, President of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering.


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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