Celebrating NYU's Newest Engineers

Laughter and cheers greeted the rotating display of photos that flashed on the Barclays Center massive screen, as NYU Polytechnic Shool of Engineering's newest graduates recognized themselves and their friends. Accompanying the pictures were answers to the fill-in-the-blank statement “Engineering Is ____,” which ran the gamut from the no-nonsense “rigorous” and “sustainable” to the touching, “the world to me” and “magic”.

Excited family members hugged violet-robed graduates, cell-phone cameras flashed, and happy chatter filled the plaza.

“I know you’ll hear from a lot of parents how many sacrifices they made in order for their child to attend college,” one father said. “But my daughter, Carin Leonard, worked full time while she was earning her master’s degree in chemistry, and that’s not an easy thing to do. We’re very proud of her.”

Those sentiments were echoed in group after group. Cesar Salazar, who had earned a master’s degree in Management of Technology, was surrounded by a large multi-generational group of family members, who nodded enthusiastically—and with evident pride—as he described how much he had learned at both NYU and his new job with the financial services company AXA. “If you’re looking for the proudest group of people here today, that just might be us,” one of them insisted.

Leonard, Salazar, and their more than 1,600 fellow graduates were taking part in an historic occasion, as President and Dean Katepalli Sreenivasan reminded the crowd during his greetings. “You are the first to graduate from the Polytechnic School of Engineering as an official part of New York University,” he said, “and this is not mere symbolism. You have had the best of both worlds: the benefits of Poly’s spirit of innovation as well as NYU’s steeped history in liberal arts.”

After receiving the inaugural Polytechnic Medal, Nicholas Donofrio, the former Executive Vice President of Innovation and Technology at IBM, also addressed the graduates, exhorting them to embrace change. “It’s going to happen, whether you like it or not,” he asserted. “Sometimes you’ll be the one called upon to make it happen, and other times you’ll have to be the one adapting to it, but either way, don’t fight it.”

Although Donofrio related that his wife had told him to be brief and not try to make jokes, he got one of the biggest laughs of the entire event when he proclaimed that he was also a graduate of Poly but that he had not learned a thing at the school—but then quickly admitted that he had been given an honorary degree but had never actually taken classes here.

The words “creative” and “collaborative” were also among the answers displayed and for proof of that, one needed look no further than the students exiting the stage after receiving their diplomas. As they returned to their seats, each was handed a glow stick, meant to be worn or tossed into the air at the end of the ceremony. At any other school, the colorful playthings might merely have been used for those purposes. But here students banded together to combine their sticks, fashioning large loops with which they encircled their seating sections, fanciful helixes, and other shapes.

It was creativity and collaboration in action—and a little magic, too.