Meet the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Class of 2013: An Overview of the 207th Commencement


Media Relations

May 17, 2013

Meet the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Class of 2013: An Overview of the 207th Commencement

This spring, 1,676 students will receive degrees from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, on Saturday, May 25, beginning at 8:30 a.m. in the East Campus Athletic Village (ECAV) stadium. They represent the next generation of leaders, engineers, scientists, entrepreneurs, patent holders, game designers, architects, and innovators, in fields ranging from engineering to architecture, fine arts to science, game design to information technology, and business to the military.

During the 207th Commencement ceremony, Rensselaer will award a total of 1,834 degrees. They include: 411 master’s degrees, 163 doctoral degrees, and 1,260 bachelor’s degrees. Some graduates have earned more than one degree. 

A Global CommunityIn 2013, graduating students come from more than 40 states, in addition to New York. The Class of 2013 contains graduates from 19 other nations, including Bangladesh, Canada, China, Colombia, Greece, India, Malaysia, Peru, Portugal, Spain, Taiwan, and Turkey. 

The Commencement Speaker Is...U.S. Representative John R. Lewis (D-GA) — one of the nation’s most dedicated and courageous civil rights leaders — will deliver the 2013 Commencement address. Before he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives for the Fifth Congressional District in Georgia in 1986, Lewis compiled an impressive track record that led many civil and human rights leaders to call him one of the most courageous persons the civil rights movement ever produced. Roll Call magazine once said, “John Lewis…is a genuine American hero and moral leader who commands widespread respect in the chamber.” 

Taking the PodiumRensselaer Polytechnic Institute President Shirley Ann Jackson will also address members of the Class of 2013. President Jackson is the 18th president of Rensselaer.  Since taking office in 1999, she has led an extraordinary transformation of the Institute with an ambitious strategic effort known as The Rensselaer Plan.

Her tenure also has been marked by innovations in curriculum, expansion of undergraduate research, and new award-winning student life initiatives. Guided by her vision, Rensselaer is now home to the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies, the Computational Center for Nanotechnology Innovations, the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center, and the East Campus Athletic Village.

President Jackson has held senior leadership positions in government, industry, research, and academe. A theoretical physicist, she was chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (1995-1999). She serves on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, appointed by President Obama in 2009. Dr. Jackson also is a member of the International Security Advisory Board at the U.S. Department of State.

Her research focus lies in theoretical studies of optoelectronic properties of two-dimensional systems. Her policy focus includes energy security and the national capacity for innovation, including addressing the “Quiet Crisis” of looming gaps in the science, technology, and engineering workforce and reduced support for basic research.

Dr. Jackson holds an S.B. in physics and a Ph.D. in theoretical elementary particle physics, both from M.I.T. She has been awarded 51 honorary doctoral degrees. Calling her a “national treasure,” the National Science Board selected her as its 2007 Vannevar Bush Award recipient for “a lifetime of achievements in scientific research, education, and senior statesman-like contributions to public policy.”

Class President Christopher Newhard, who majored in biochemistry and biophysics, will also address the graduates. The Westford, Mass., native plans to pursue graduate study at Rensselaer since he was accepted into the accelerated B.S./Ph.D. program in the School of Science. Newhard will investigate the influence of different forms of the same protein on muscle mechanics in using Drosophila melanogaster, otherwise known as the fruit fly.

Honorary Degree RecipientsCongressman Lewis will receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree during the ceremony. He will join a group of high-level business, military, and nonprofit foundation leaders who will participate in the graduation ceremonies and also receive honorary degrees.

Retired Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Michael G. Mullen will receive an honorary Doctor of Engineering degree. Admiral Mullen graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1968, and received a master’s of science degree in operations research from the Naval Postgraduate School and completed the Advanced Management Program at Harvard Business School.

He served as the 17th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, from 2007 until 2011. He was the principal military adviser to President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama, as well as two Secretaries of Defense. He led the military during a critical period of transition, overseeing the end of the combat mission in Iraq and the development of a new military strategy for Afghanistan. He advocated for the rapid development and fielding of innovative technologies, championed emerging and enduring international partnerships, and advanced new methods for combating terrorism—all of which directly culminated in the operation which targeted Osama bin Laden. 

As Joint Chiefs Chairman, he spearheaded the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” In addition, he successfully led the matrix, consensus-based, complex organizational model of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 

Xerox Chairman and CEO Ursula M. Burns will receive an honorary Doctor of Engineering degree. The first African-American woman to be named CEO of a Fortune 500 company, Burns earned a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering from Polytechnic University of New York University, and joined Xerox in 1980 as a mechanical engineering summer intern. She later assumed roles in product development and planning, as the company was securing its leadership position in digital document technologies. From 1992 through 2000, she led several business teams, including the company’s color business and office network printing business.

In 2000, Burns was named senior vice president, Corporate Strategic Services, heading up manufacturing and supply chain operations. Alongside then-CEO Anne Mulcahy, Burns worked to restructure Xerox through its turnaround to emerge as a leader in color technology and document services. In April 2007, Burns was named president of Xerox, expanding her leadership to also include the company’s IT organization, corporate strategy, human resources, corporate marketing, and global accounts. At that time, she also was elected a member of the company’s board of directors.

Burns was named chief executive officer in July 2009 and shortly after, made the largest acquisition in Xerox history, the $6.4 billion purchase of Affiliated Computer Services, catapulting the company’s presence in the $500 billion business services market and extending the company’s reach into diverse areas of business process and IT outsourcing. On May 20, 2010, Burns became chairman of the company.

Microsoft and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation pioneer Patricia Q. Stonesifer will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree. A longtime leader in the technology, foundation, and nonprofit arenas, Stonesifer is a graduate of Indiana University. She is president and CEO of Martha’s Table, a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., focused on providing food, nutrition, education, and other support to help individuals and families break the cycle of poverty. She also advises business, nonprofit, and government leaders on strategies for reducing inequity. In 2012, she completed a three-year term as chair of the Smithsonian Institution Board of Regents. 

In the 10 years prior, Stonesifer was the founding CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. She continues to serve on the Smithsonian Board of Regents, as well as on the board of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. She is involved in several education efforts including America Achieves Advisory Board, Hope Street Group Advisor, Raise DC Executive Team, and Circle of Allies and Champions for the National Council of Youth Leaders.

Rensselaer’s OwnThis year, four Rensselaer employees are graduating. In addition, ten children of Rensselaer employees also are graduating.

All in the FamilyThe Rensselaer degree is well-known throughout the world as a symbol of technological excellence and achievement. Rensselaer alumni are leaders. They are collaborative, able, and smart. This year, 88 members of the Class of 2013 are Rensselaer “legacies,” students with relatives who attended the university.

Continuing Academic ExcellenceMany graduates will continue their studies after graduation. Among the schools that graduates will be attending are:

Albany Medical College, Bentley University, Carnegie Mellon University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, Texas A&M, UCLA, UC Berkeley, University of Michigan, University of Pennsylvania, Yale University, and Rensselaer.

Hot Jobs! Meet the Next Generation of Innovators in the Work ForceToday, job market news continues to look positive in all regions for Class of 2013 graduates, according to a new report by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), which states that “technical majors head the list of highest-paid majors for the college Class of 2013.  The report notes that the top-paid non-engineering majors are computer science, with an average starting salary of $64,800, followed by management information systems/business ($63,100) and finance ($57,400).

In addition, employers taking part in NACE’s Job Outlook Spring Update survey said they would hire 2.1 percent more new college grads from the Class of 2013 than they hired from the Class of 2012. The survey is a forecast of hiring intentions of employers as they relate to new college graduates.

With the Rensselaer Commencement ceremony around the corner, preliminary results indicate that Rensselaer students — in all areas of study, including management, humanities, social sciences, information technology, and engineering — are landing good jobs within the Capital Region, across the nation, and also overseas.

Heading from the stage to offices and locations in the Capital Region and around the country, Rensselaer graduates will work at, Apple Inc., Boeing, Deloitte & Touche, Ecovative, General Electric, General Motors, Global Foundries, Google, Honda R & D, JP Morgan Chase, Kitware,  L’Oreal, Merck, Microsoft, Momentive Performance Materials, Palantir Technologies, Trip Advisor, United Technologies Corporation, ZS Associates, Sandia National Laboratories, as well as other national labs including Pacific Northwest, Lawrence Berkeley, and U.S. Naval Research Lab.

“Today’s employers really desire students who have had some experience while in college,” said Dawn Cairns-Weaver, director of experiential learning and cooperative education in the Rensselaer Center for Career and Professional Development (CCPD). “This is what gives a student the competitive edge when it comes to landing a full-time job. As the employment landscape has improved, we have seen an increase in the opportunities for students who carved out time while studying at Rensselaer to gain experience through summer internships and co-op assignments. Despite market dynamics, Rensselaer graduates have always proven to be resilient and resourceful.”

Weaver also noted that Rensselaer graduates continue to enjoy overall higher starting salaries compared to national averages. The average starting salary reported for the Class of 2013 is $66,987. According to NACE, the Class of 2013 overall is $44, 928 for all bachelor degree candidates. Last year, the average starting salary for all reported Rensselaer undergraduate bachelor’s degree candidates from the Class of 2012 was $63,159, while NACE reported that the overall average salary for all bachelor degree candidates for the Class of 2012 was $44,259.

Recently, PayScale Inc. announced its 2013 College Return on Investment (ROI) Report. The report ranked more than 1,000 U.S. colleges and universities, including private, public, and for-profit schools to determine the potential financial return of attending the school given the cost of tuition and the payoff in median lifetime earnings. The report grouped schools into eight categories: Private Research Universities; Liberal Arts Schools; Arts, Music & Design Schools; Business Schools; Engineering Schools; Ivy League Schools; Private Schools; and Public Schools. According to the report, engineering schools continue to dominate, with an average ROI of $1,208,383. Rensselaer was ranked number 21 on the list.

The CCPD offers a comprehensive program of career and professional development activities, co-op, internship, and full-time job search activities to both undergraduate and graduate students. New initiatives under way within the center include programs to support and prepare graduate students for careers in academia or within the public- and private- sector industries, and efforts to streamline the career process for veterans in order to connect them with prospective employers.

Parting Gift: A Giant Rubik’s CubeEach year at Commencement, the graduating class presents the university with a unique and spirited gift. And now the fastest selling toy in history is making its way to the Rensselaer campus. Members of the Class of 2013 are raising funds to create a large fully functional Rubik’s Cube.

The Rubik’s Cube will be placed in the Darrin Communication Center landing at the end of the Great Hall. The innovative project brought together students, faculty, and staff from various disciplines in ways that reflect the Rensselaer Plan emphasis on the need for interdisciplinary focus, according to Katherine Manz, a senior who majored in chemistry and psychology, and a member of the Pi Beta Phi Fraternity for Women. Manz also serves as the head of the Class of 2013 Gift Committee. 

The sculpture — which will measure over three feet per side — is based on an original design by Rensselaer student Sam Seifert, an electrical engineering major. Members of the Class of 2013 have already raised more than $5,000 to support the project. To date, 190 members of the class have donated funds to support the project. In addition, 18 students became Patroons of Rensselaer with their gifts of $100 or more. The committee hopes to raise $20,000 to complete the project. The Rubik’s Cube will be unveiled during the Rensselaer Reunion & Homecoming Weekend planned for Oct. 4-6.

Awarding Excellence in CounselingCharles W. Boylen, professor of biology in the School of Science and associate director of the Darrin Fresh Water Institute, has been selected as the 39th recipient of the David M. Darrin ’40 Counseling Award, which will be presented during the Commencement. The award was established by David M. Darrin ’40 to recognize a faculty member who has made an unusual contribution in the counseling of undergraduate students. The selection of the award recipient is made by Phalanx, Rensselaer’s student leadership honorary society. 

In recognizing Professor Boylen, members of the Rensselaer community noted that “for the past 40 years, he has conducted environmentally focused research at Rensselaer, during which time he has mentored 35 graduate students and countless undergraduates.” One nominator described his “willingness and drive to assist students in all facets of their career at Rensselaer and beyond.” Another nominator said that “Professor Boylen’s passion and dedication to the mentoring of students is exhibited through his translation of thought- provoking lessons to hands-on learning experiences outside of the classroom walls.”

Service to Their CountryForty-one students will be graduating from the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) programs and starting active military service as officers with the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force. Commissioning signifies the beginning of a student’s active military service. Each student will take an oath of office in his or her respective branch of service in one of three commissioning ceremonies taking place on May 24 on the Rensselaer campus in the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) Theater and the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies (CBIS) auditorium.

In the Army, the Mohawk Battalion operates as the Army’s only commissioning source for colleges and universities throughout the Capital Region. This year, eight of the 16 graduates that will be commissioned as second lieutenants are from Rensselaer. Of the 16 commissionees, eight will go into active duty, five will go into the National Guard, and three will go into the Reserve.  Assignment locations for the new lieutenants include: Ft. Benning, Ga.; Ft. Sill, Okla.; Ft. Huachuca, Ariz.; Ft. Leonard Wood, Mo.; and Ft. Rucker, Ala. The commissioning ceremony for the Rensselaer students will take place on May 24 from 10 to 11 a.m. in the CBIS auditorium.  Maj. Gen. Patrick A. Murphy, adjutant general for the state of New York, will deliver the keynote address. Murphy also serves as the commander of the New York Army National Guard and the Commissioner of the Division of Military and Naval Affairs for the state of New York. He is responsible for providing trained and ready forces for both state and federal missions.

From Naval ROTC, 12 students will be commissioned as ensigns and two as second lieutenants into active duty in the United States Navy or Marine Corps. Future career paths for those commissioned include: three surface warfare officers, five submarine officers, three aviation officers, one special warfare officer, and two Marine Corps officers. The commissioning ceremony will take place from 9 to 11 a.m. in the EMPAC Theater May 24. Rear Admiral James Murdoch ’80 will deliver the keynote address.  In 2011, Murdoch was selected to lead the newly established Program Executive Office, Littoral Combat Ships. In his most recent assignment, he served as the director of fleet maintenance for U.S. Fleet Forces Command. Murdoch is a 1980 Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps graduate from Rensselaer with a degree in mechanical engineering. He also graduated with distinction from the Naval War College.

In the Air Force, 13 graduates will become space operations officers, developmental engineers, scientists, an intelligence officer, an air liaison officer, a cyberspace operations officer, and a remotely piloted aircraft officer. The commissioning ceremony will take place from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on May 24 in the EMPAC Theater. Col.(Ret.) Christopher O’Hara will deliver the keynote address. O’Hara retired from the Air Force in August, 2010.  During his last assignment, he served as the commander of AFROTC Detachment 550 at Rensselaer, in addition to serving as deputycommander of the 732d Air Expeditionary Group, Joint Base Balad, Iraq.

Commencement Goes Green: Supporting the Environment, Electric Vehicle Charging, and the Local CommunityA green, sustainable mindset has picked up tremendous momentum on the campus over the past three years.

In support of Institutewide sustainability efforts and after consulting with students, the Rensselaer Bookstore has changed the bachelor’s and master’s graduation regalia that will be used for this year’s Commencement. The regalia features caps and gowns that are made from 100 percent post-consumer plastic bottle pellets. The regalia, supplied by Oak Hall Cap and Gown, is known as the “GreenWeaver” style. According to the organization, an average of 23 plastic bottles are removed from landfills for each gown. Other regalia features include tagless size labels stamped with soy milk, and a reduction in the CO2 gas emissions by more than 54 percent in the process of manufacturing fabric from plastic versus virgin polyester.

In addition, the plastic bags used to store the caps and gowns are made from recycled plastic. To date the program has resulted in the reuse of 14 million plastic bottles (nationally). Following Commencement, the used regalia can be turned in, and it will be used to recycle new fabric. Of special note, for every gown purchased, Oak Hall will make a donation to an on-campus sustainability program at participating colleges and universities. For the last three years, the organization has made a donation to the Class of 2010 Green Roof fund for continued maintenance of the green roof over the Bookstore.

On a larger scale, the latest parking and transportation initiatives planned for Commencement will benefit the community, according to Jason Jones, operations manager of parking and transportation at Rensselaer. “One of the Rensselaer goals, similar to many other colleges and universities, is to minimize its carbon footprint through sustainable practices,” Jones said. “Rensselaer has teamed up with several local partners such as the Capital District Transportation Authority (CDTA) and the Capital District Clean Communities Coalition to advance sustainable initiatives.” To cut down on the carbon footprint from transferring guests between the events and parking facilities, Rensselaer will use 15 hybrid CDTA buses, along with two Rensselaer propane buses. This effort means that more than 65 percent of the passenger fleet is using alternative fuel or alternative power during Commencement. In addition, Jones noted that Rensselaer is one of the first campuses in New York state to offer electric vehicle charging that will be available not only individuals attending Commencement, and members of the local community. The charging station will be installed on the Rensselaer campus in the B-Lot parking area located atECAV.

Hospitality Services at Rensselaer, provided by Sodexo Campus Services, plays a large role in sustainability on the Rensselaer campus andmore than 900 other higher education institutions in the U.S. The taste for new and original fare has changed campus dining at Rensselaer. Today, a plethora of delectable meal options that includes ethnic cuisines, made-to-order restaurant-style meals, themed meals, guest chef nights, and various specialty desserts — often using local and organic ingredients — can now be found across the campus. 

According to Matt Mueller, general manager for Hospitality Services, there are several sustainability initiatives planned for this year’s Commencement that will help to support the local economy and community. For example, the annual Commencement barbecue will include nearly 3,900 pounds of meat and veggie burgers, hotdogs, and sausage, along with all of the necessary condiments. Sodexo will be using 13,000 locally baked hamburger and hot dog buns, as well as 1,920 pounds of fruit salad, along with bottled water and canned Pepsi products.

The Rensselaer bake shop will serve up 3,500 brownies and 6,500 Commencement cookies, and attendees will also get to enjoy 6,500 locally made ice cream novelties from the Gillette Creamery. Sodexo will use Aspretto, a 100 percent fair trade certified coffee. The sustainable coffee program, launched two years ago, is also available in all the resident dining halls.

In addition, the dinner plates, napkins, and utensils are produced with a combination of recycled material and plant enzymes to aid in composting breakdown. Sodexo also plans to recycle all cans, bottles, plastic table covers, and aluminum food service pans. Following the barbecue, Sodexo has invited area food pantries to help them distribute any remaining food items. 

That Was Then...Highlights Regarding Members of the Class of 2013During the annual Student Orientation program, Karen Long, director of undergraduate admissions, often delivers remarks noting some highlights regarding the incoming class. In 2009, the incoming Class of 2013 included nearly 1,300 students. The high-achieving group included 363 women, and a significant increase in the national and international profile of the student body.

More than 30 percent of the students came from areas outside of the Northeast. The first-year students hailed from 40  states in addition to the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, and 13 foreign countries, reinforcing Rensselaer’s belief that a university must have global reach in order to have global impact.

So back then, here’s what Long had to say about the Class of 2013: For the men, more of you are named Michael than any other name. Michael has been the most common name for the last eight years! And for the women, the most common name this year is Rebecca.

Within the class, 80 were valedictorians or salutatorians in high school. More than 80 had perfect 800 SAT verbal or math scores. Sixty-two percent were in the top 10 percent of their high school classes.

Continuing a Rensselaer legacy, 100 are the sons or daughters, grandsons or granddaughters of Rensselaer graduates, which serves as a “wonderful message about our education and the possibilities it brings” and the longstanding connection we make once you join the Rensselaer family.

In addition, 231 won the Rensselaer Medal at their high school.  Thirty-six students were Eagle Scouts while nine were Girl Scout Gold Award winners. And 54 were captains of athletic teams in high school—but more importantly, 723 students participated in sporting activities overall, and since Rensselaer has had more than 50 National Academic All-Americans over the last few years,  this underscores that we truly believe in the idea of the scholar-athlete!

Your classmates are some people who have done some very interesting things.  We have a student who plays the shakuhachi (a Japanese flute made from bamboo)  and the didgeridoo (a cylindrical instrument made from a termite hollowed Eucalyptus tree);  a student who is the youngest person ever to make a presentation to the American Psychiatric Association; a student whose marching band was in the movie “Spiderman 3”; an avid juggler who started the juggling and unicycling program their hometown; a score of talented musicians who have performed at Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center, along with the lead guitarist for a band called Mortal Wombat; athletes including the Massachusetts state shot-put champion, a student who became a member of the U.S. Hockey Team at age 16, and a runner who averages 50 miles a week; and a world-ranked Dance Dance Revolution dancer.

In short, a diverse and very interesting class.

Commencement Spaces at RensselaerThis year marks the fourth time that the stadium at ECAV will be used for Commencement.  More than 10,000 graduates and visitors are expected to attend the ceremony. In 2009, the Institute officially unveiled ECAV.  The facility represents the most extensive athletic construction project in Rensselaer history, offering athletic and recreation facilities that have changed the student experience dramatically. The $92 million complex is the latest in a decade long physical transformation of Rensselaer.

Beginning in 1950, Commencements were held in the Houston Field House. In 1999, due to the increasing number of graduates, the ceremony was held at the Pepsi Arena (now the Times Union Center) in downtown Albany, where it was held for the next few years. In 2002, Rensselaer planned to hold Commencement on Harkness Field; however, a late May

snowfall of 2.2 inches forced the planned outdoor Commencement inside to the Houston Field House. The ceremony has been held outdoors on the Harkness Field since 2003, until the move to ECAV in 2010.

East Campus Athletic Village HighlightsFrom the innovative design of new buildings to the retro-commissioning of century-old Institute landmarks, Rensselaer has embraced sustainability as a way of life and is dedicated to ensuring the old red and white campus is forever green.

In addition to optimized environmental conditioning systems and a strong focus on water efficiency for both waste water and irrigation-free landscaping, three photovoltaic arrays are installed throughout the East Campus. A 46-kilowatt array is located on the Houston Field House roof, and two 2-kilowatt arrays are on the ECAV building roof. Of special note, the arrays installed on the ECAV roof include one fixed and one tracking array, both of which are being used for class studies and research on campus.

The Institute plans to expand the ECAV areas to 14,000 square feet for future electric generation. The innovative design — the inspiration for which is a DNA genetic bar code — employs a solar shading screen to control glare and heat from the western sun exposure. The solar array converts sunlight — an abundant, renewable energy source — into electricity that helps to support the refrigeration system that makes the ice for the Houston Field House hockey rink. In fall 2010, it was announced that ECAV had achieved a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building rating of gold, demonstrating that leaders at Rensselaer are pairing engineering smarts with old-fashioned common sense to trim energy costs and reduce the carbon footprint of the historic Troy campus.

Through the Years: Notable Moments in Commencement HistoryAs Rensselaer has evolved, so have its Commencement ceremonies. According to the Institute Archives and Special Collections, here are a couple of interesting facts:

  • Rensselaer’s first Commencement was April 26, 1826, in the Old Bank Place in Troy. Asa Fitch, a member of the Class of 1827, recorded the event in his diary. The graduates delivered demonstration lectures on scientific subjects, probably the first of their kind in American education, in language described by Fitch as “plain, familiar…no one attempting to be elegant or flowery in his discourse.”
  • For over 90 years, Rensselaer required each undergraduate student to submit a thesis in order to receive a degree. The first known “graduating theses” were submitted by members of the Class of 1854. This requirement continued well into the 20th century, but by the mid-1940s only a few departments continued to require the undergraduate theses.
  • Commencement was not held on campus until 1913 when the ’87 Gym provided a large enough space to accommodate the ceremony.  John Sterling Deans, chief engineer for the Phoenix Bridge Co, delivered the Commencement address on June 18, 1913.
  • The Troy Savings Bank Music Hall hosted 37 consecutive commencements, from 1876-1912.
  • There were no Commencements in 1852 and 1919. The degree program changed from one year to three years in 1850, so there was no Class of 1852. The Class of 1919 graduated in December 1918 due to an acceleration of the program during World War I.
  • In 1942, a handful of women were the first to enroll in degree-granting programs at Rensselaer. The first two women to receive their degrees, Lois Graham and Mary Ellen Rathbun Kolb, did so in 1946. More than 400 women will graduate from Rensselaer this year.
  • There was no Commencement speaker in 1968. Nelson Rockefeller cancelled due to the assassination of Robert Kennedy on June 5, two days before Commencement.
  • In 1976, Walter Cronkite, the American broadcast journalist best known as anchorman for the CBS Evening News for 19 years, delivered the Commencement address. Cronkite, who died in July 2009, received an honorary Doctor of Letters degree.
  • The first honorary degree (Doctor of Engineering) was awarded at Commencement in 1916 to Robert W. Hunt, a longtime trustee (Hunt Dormitory is named for him).
  • The Rensselaer flag combines historic and contemporary elements to represent the Institute’s origins and the present. The design is based on the coat of arms of Kiliaen Van Rensselaer, the great-great grandfather of Rensselaer’s founder, Stephen Van Rensselaer. The Rensselaer flag, created in conjunction with the Class of 1994 gift, was flown for the first time in May 1994, when it was raised in front of the Houston Field House for the 188th Commencement exercises.
  • One of Rensselaer’s best-known songs, “Here’s to Old RPI,” first appeared in the 1906 yearbook, Transit. It was composed by Edmund Fales and is sung today as Rensselaer’s alma mater.
  • The Rensselaer mace was created in 1999 for the first time in Institute history. The mace is carried at the head of all academic processions and is prominently displayed during academic ceremonies. The modern mace grew out of an ancient tradition to use it to preserve order. It can be carried before a high functionary as a symbol of authority. Recalling our founder’s Dutch ancestry, the tulip-shaped top of the Rensselaer mace is made of silver with the Rensselaer seal in the middle of the tulip bloom, which is also a symbol of prosperity. The shaft of the Rensselaer mace is made of ebony. This mace was made in the workshop of Rebecca Smith and Anton Pruden in Ditchling, a small village in East Sussex, England.

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About Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Founded in 1824, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is America’s first technological research university. Rensselaer encompasses five schools, over 30 research centers, more than 140 academic programs including 25 new programs, and a dynamic community made up of over 6,800 students and 104,000 living alumni. Rensselaer faculty and alumni include upwards of 155 National Academy members, six members of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, six National Medal of Technology winners, five National Medal of Science winners, and a Nobel Prize winner in Physics. With nearly 200 years of experience advancing scientific and technological knowledge, Rensselaer remains focused on addressing global challenges with a spirit of ingenuity and collaboration. To learn more, please visit