A virtual celebration — real accomplishments and pride
It might have been missing some of the pomp, due to circumstance, but NYU Tandon’s virtual celebration was long on inspiration, words of wisdom, and palpable joy.
A special message for Tandon
In addition to presiding over NYU’s all-university celebration, President Andy Hamilton pre-recorded a message for Tandon students, kicking things off by declaring, “Although the format today is virtual, our pride in you could not be more real.”
He continued: “The pandemic in no way diminishes your spectacular achievements. The past semester has been filled with challenges, and you have met them with forbearance and ingenuity. Although you are graduating during uncertain times, the same qualities that led you to choose NYU Tandon as your academic home will help you make a difference in the world as alumni. . . . The world needs your talents more than ever now as it begins the task of rebuilding and reimagining the future.”
The beginning of a new journey
Dean Jelena Kovačević offered a heartfelt address to the Class of 2020. “We are here today to mark the end of one journey and the beginning of another,” she said, “to thank those who supported you throughout this and who will be here for you going forward, to step back and think for a second about something that is bigger than any of us, a sense of responsibility to something outside ourselves and to those less fortunate than us.”
She continued, “Look around yourselves and effect change in your environment. Be the champions of science and facts and use your hard-earned knowledge and skills to impact society for the better. Build a community you can be proud of and hold each other responsible for it. Treat each other with respect regardless of where you come from. The color of your skin, or your gender or sexual orientation.”
She acknowledged that we are living right now in uncomfortable times but advised: “Put yourselves in uncomfortable positions and learn something new because that’s where true growth occurs.”
A thousand points of light
Chandrika Tandon, the chair of the school’s Board of Overseers, also offered her congratulations, saying: “We are sending out a thousand points of light ... and they’re going to shine so brightly, blaze so many trails, and — individually and collectively — make everything around us better.
A poetic interlude
Honored commencement speaker Joan Von Ahn graduated from the School of Engineering in 1976 and went on to break glass ceilings as a meteorologist. In her speech, she evocatively described the obstacles she overcame while forging a career at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Weather Service — and while becoming one of the first women formally educated as a meteorologist to present the weather on television. She also recited a poem every bit as relevant and resonant as when her undergraduate chemistry professor passed it out on the first day of class:
When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high,
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest, if you must, but don’t you quit.
Life is queer with its twists and turns,
As every one of us sometimes learns,
And many a failure turns about,
When you might have won had you stuck it out;
Don’t give up though the pace seems slow–
You may succeed with another blow.
Often the goal is nearer than
It seems to a faint and faltering man,
Often the struggler has given up,
When he might have captured the victor’s cup,
And he learned too late when the night slipped down,
How close he was to the golden crown.
Success is failure turned inside out–
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems so far,
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit–
It’s when things seem worst that you mustn’t quit.
What engineering is all about
Maxwell Rosen, an Applied Physics major who also did research in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, was the Class of 2020’s valedictorian, and, from his home in Florida, he offered his classmates a hopeful message.
“I believe that as the designers of the future, it is our responsibility to make the world a better place,” he said. “I see nuclear fusion as one way to create a sustainable future through clean energy. Others in our class are improving healthcare, cybersecurity, robotics, digital communications and other fields too numerous to mention. ... If there’s one thing I want you to take away from this speech, it’s that all engineering is about helping people through technology.”
Our alumni have tales to tell
In the weeks before the celebration, words of cheer and encouragement poured in from alumni, aimed at letting students know that even though they were graduating under challenging circumstances, the Tandon family had their back.
One alum, Neil Weiser (’73), took a historical perspective, writing:
The ‘real world’ you're graduating into is unlike anything we've ever seen. But while history never repeats itself exactly, it does have a habit of mutating and coming back around in different guises.
When most of you were still babies, New York City got attacked on 9/11/2001, and in that moment our country changed, affecting the trajectories of students and recent graduates much like you. Seven years later, the financial markets froze up and the economy nearly crashed, and that too upended many plans.
When my class was in school, the Vietnam war was raging, and many of us went through our four years looking over our shoulders, wondering if we'd be greeted at graduation with a diploma and a draft notice from Uncle Sam.
Before there was Covid-19, there was Polio and HIV/AIDS. Before the "War Against Covid-19," there was the Iraq War, the Gulf War, the Cold War, the Korean War and a couple of World Wars. Before Covid-19, there were recessions large and small, and one Great Depression that lasted through the entire decade of the 1930s.
Through all of this change, smart graduates very much like yourself have looked at the world with fresh eyes, and found new problems to tackle, and new ways to see existing problems. I have little doubt that you will find a way to change the world. Maybe it will be in the ways we communicate, or how the planet is powered, or how we travel between places. Maybe you'll be involved in bringing a life-saving drug or medical technology to humankind, or maybe you'll be at NASA, playing a key role in our next space program. Who knows? Great problems are out there, great opportunities, waiting for you to come up with a great solution, applying the knowledge you've gained at NYU.
This too shall pass. This pandemic may sidetrack your plans for a while, but don't let it derail you. The problems are too big and many, and the world needs you to solve a few. So go for it and make us proud of what you can do.