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Olin College Holds 13th Commencement

Graduates Urged to use Talents to Solve World’s Big Problems

Olin College of Engineering held its 13th Commencement Sunday, May 20. Eighty-seven graduates received bachelor’s degrees during the ceremonies, which were held under a big tent on the college’s campus in Needham.

Speakers urged the graduates to lead meaningful lives and concentrate their talents on the big challenges facing the world.

In his welcome to the Class of 2018, Olin President Richard K. Miller acknowledged the divisions, conflicts and significant issues facing the world, including such problems as ensuring clean water and air and securing global health. He urged the graduates to take risks and embrace uncertainty as they face obstacles, just as the founders of the college had done in starting Olin.

“Today I urge you to take a similar small step into the unknown,” said Miller. “Choose meaning over money and security when you can. Dream big. Be bold. Be brave. Do your best to change the world for the better — in your company, your school, your town and in the world at large." 

Ken Stokes, representing the Board of Trustees, asked the graduates to “rejoice, recognize and remember” as they complete their four years of “hard work and hard play.”

“Within minutes, you will be graduates of Olin College, prized not just for your knowledge and skills, but for the mindsets and can-do attitudes you have developed and nurtured during your time here,” said Stokes, who is the parent of an Olin graduate. “You will leave Olin well prepared to ask the right questions and solve the toughest problems.”

Representing the Class of 2018, graduate Nur Shlapobersky asked the audience to focus on the “commence” part of the word “commencement,” which he said applied to more than just the graduating class.

“It’s in the spirit of Olin to value these beginnings and to take every opportunity to act on them,” said Shlapobersky. “Whether that’s an opportunity to begin something new, or begin seeing things from new perspectives, let’s all begin engaging with, and discovering more of these perspectives ... here at Olin and in the rest of our lives.”

Professor Mark Somerville, representing the faculty and staff, took the audience back to an early, failed curricular experiment called “gates.” 

“My advice to you as you go out into the world, is that you’ll find lots of people, often organized into things called ‘committees,’ that spend a lot of time talking about things, and I hope one of the things you’ve learned during your time at Olin is that, sometimes the best thing is to build a prototype, learn from it, and get on with it,” said Somerville.

The featured speaker, Ursula M. Burns, the former CEO of Xerox, was the first African-American woman to lead a Fortune 500 company. Noting wide income disparities and the problems many groups still have attaining the American dream, she urged the students to devote their energies to resolving the world’s major problems and creating a more equitable society.

Burns brought out her smartphone to play a few seconds of “The Revolution will not be Televised” by poet and African-American activist Gil Scott-Heron as she asked graduates to register to vote and stay focused on “the right things.”

“We’re counting on you to fix these problems,” said Burns. “What we need is active engagement ... we need potable water, we need food, we need access to education, we need peace, we need inclusion. All that stuff will probably get you one-tenth of what a new app would get you, but it will give you more joy.”

Commencement 2018 by Olin College of Engineering on Exposure