New graduates facing a changing world

Commencement 2021

female graduate tossing cap in air in front of washington square arch

On May 19th, NYU Tandon School of Engineering celebrated the class of 2021. And while it was still not possible to gather together, their story was told and it was one of overcoming hurdles and tackling society-wide problems head on.

This year’s commencement theme was “redefining engineer.” The dictionary definitions of engineering are woefully outdated, referring mostly to people who build bridges and skyscrapers. These graduates have contributed to fields well beyond that — responsible AI, renewable energy, biomedical devices and so much more. This is a generation who brings the engineer’s skill set — an unquenchable desire to solve problems in creative ways — and applies them to all of the problems that plague society today.


The president’s message to Tandon

Andrew Hamilton wearing regalia.

In addition to presiding over NYU’s all-university celebration, President Andrew Hamilton had a message for Tandon students, kicking things off by declaring how proud he was that these graduates had made it through such a difficult year.

The past year has brought changes and upheavals that none of us foresaw when you began your studies. But through it all you have sustained your NYU spirit. You have continued to strive to grow and to achieve. And each one of you has completed a rigorous course of study at a school of Engineering that continues to skyrocket through the rankings.

He also cited the world-changing technologies that these students had worked on.

During this historic year, you responded again and again, in meaningful ways. You developed technologies to enhance testing for and treatment of COVID-19. You created methods to increase citizen engagement in lawmaking and decrease the spread of disinformation. You launched an office of inclusive excellence to serve the Tandon community, and you researched ways to make tech more accessible and artificial intelligence more equitable.


A panorama of emotions

Chandrika Tandon, the chair of the school’s Board, who has often touted the school as an engine of innovation and opportunity, also offered her congratulations and her hope for the future the students will shape, saying:

Just enjoy this brilliant ever-changing world with wonder, with curiosity. Keep your perspective, and keep your fierce determination to make your corner of the planet better in whatever way you can. I hope you will. I know you will.

“Technology could be the key to the future. And you hold that key.”

Dean Jelena Kovačević offered a heartfelt address to the Class of 2021, graduating at the end of a year and a half that has been a difficult change for all of us. “Today is a day for us to celebrate,” the dean said. “Let's celebrate making it most of the way through a global pandemic, let's celebrate each of you, and let's celebrate the love and respect we all feel for each other.”

Kovačević’s speech emphasized how the past year has built a resilience in young people that will help them through their entire lives. And that resilience, combined with a mastery of engineering and technology, will push them forward after graduation.

You are the future. Use technology wisely and please remember: you're Tandon made, now and forever.


Pioneering the future

The featured speaker was Dr. Ruthie D. Lyle, a pioneering inventor and the first African American woman to earn a doctoral degree from NYU Tandon. As one of the few women to become a master inventor at IBM, Lyle was uniquely qualified to speak to a diverse student body about the future. Lyle interwove her own story and her family’s history in America — a story about historical injustices and how they can be overcome. And she emphasized the importance of the community at Tandon — relationships that can help graduates to overcome their own struggles.

Take these great relationships from Tandon with you moving forward…  Be courageous, be collaborative and be generous. The problems that we face, that the world faces, will need generous people with insights, with the ability to think out of the box, with vision. 


Creating a more equitable world

Anysa Fernandez, the featured student speaker, picked up where Lyle ended, emphasizing the initiative taken to ensure that NYU Tandon would remain a place of diversity and inclusion. The child of a political refugee from Cuba, she made it clear how important and necessary a supportive community can be.

“I knew my prospects were limitless despite being in an immense and daunting city far from my family. I felt Tandon become home. Over the past two years, it has been space for authenticity, self discovery and opportunity. I knew at Tandon, I always had a seat at the table. We were dedicated to advancing inclusion, diversity, belonging, equity, and innovation across the entire school.”

She described how she made those diversity initiatives a centerpiece of her life at Tandon as the leader of the graduate student council. And she emphasized how an education at Tandon is only the beginning of that necessary work.

“It has been, in some respects, a difficult year. We have however shown great resilience and met the current circumstances with tremendous courage. So this is a very proud moment for us all, but it shouldn't end here. We must be lifelong learners. I don't mean we should keep our noses buried in textbooks, but we should take on each and every new challenge with open eyes, minds and hearts. We must show up to every organization, institution, and community as our authentic selves and in doing so, we can create a space for others to be true to themselves and reach their potential just as we have at Tandon.”

Our Graduates

Class of 2021 Redefining Engineer

Watch the Ceremony

You can view the Virtual Commencement video and Program on our Commencement 2021 web page.