RPI grads hear from civil rights leader

TROY, NY – U.S. Representative John R. Lewis (D-GA) — one of the nation's most dedicated and courageous civil rights leaders — urged graduates to use their skills to build a kinder, more equitable society, at the 207th Commencement at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Saturday.

“What we can learn from the history of the March on Washington is that democracy is not a state. It is an act,” said Lewis. “We will never reach a place in our democracy where we can finally sit down. We will never reach a place where we can put away our responsibility as citizens and leave our job to others. Our society requires you and me to get off the sidelines and get in the game.”

Lewis addressed 1,676 graduates, their families, and friends at the 207th Rensselaer Commencement today, held in the Houston Field House. During the ceremony, Rensselaer awarded 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.  

Rensselaer President Shirley Ann Jackson told graduates to use the tools offered by new technologies for their highest purpose: answering the world's grand challenges and building communities. But to succeed in the data-driven, supercomputer powered, web-enabled, globally connected world, Jackson said, graduates will have to redefine leadership. As technology grows more powerful, they will need a greater degree of humanity and to stretch their capacity for collegiality and friendship in order to work across disciplines and national borders. 

“I urge you to take the most expansive possible view of the work you will do in future. I hope you do work to improve humanity itself — and help the rest of us to find new ways to teach, to heal, to amuse, to protect, and ultimately to understand each other,” said Jackson. “Just remember, the arc of one's career follows the arc of one's character.” 

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