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Olin College Holds 14th Commencement

Olin College of Engineering held its 14th Commencement on Sunday, May 19. Seventy-eight graduates received bachelor’s degrees during the ceremonies, which were held under a big tent on the college’s campus in Needham. The early-afternoon showers gave way to sunshine just as the processional led by Provost Vin Manno got underway.

In his welcome to the Class of 2019, Olin President Richard K. Miller urged the graduates to put happiness at the top of their life goals. Miller cited the Harvard Study of Adult Development, the so-called Happiness Study, which over 81 years has looked at the lives of more than 700 people. Preliminary results show that meaningful relationships have a lasting effect on leading a happy and healthy life.

Miller told the students, “I want you to keep working hard, yes. And work on things that matter, of course. But also work hard on maintaining your meaningful friendships. Push yourself to maintain those deep commitments that lead to happiness. Lean into those social activities that make you feel good and bring purpose and meaning. Do good in the world—it’s good for your well-being!”

Board Chair Kenneth Stokes also welcomed the guests and promised to keep his speech short. He reminded students, parents, staff and faculty that the Olin community is built on a solid foundation and he encouraged everyone to embrace Olin’s future possibilities. 

The themes of community and connection were popular ones. Appropriate give the Class of 2023 contained Olin's 1,000th alumnus. 

Representing the Class of 2019, graduate Emma Price joked that the audience should “buckle up” as she took the stage. Price talked about the formative opportunities she experienced while a student at Olin, including studying in Northern Ireland and participating in Olin’s story slam, where Price memorably shared a story about her love for fast food. Olin, said Price, is where she learned how to ask for help, show her vulnerabilities, and find her voice. “Throughout my time at Olin, the stories we shared and the connections we made are what really matters,” said Price.

Professor Aaron Hoffman, representing the faculty and staff, joked that a standard trope of a graduation day speech is to offer advice. “Like any good professor, I thought I would Google it,” said Hoffman. More seriously, Hoffman asked the students to remember that the “mark of a scholar is to always examine the data and re-examine one’s own beliefs because … being willing to update your beliefs and biases is the greatest gift this education can confer on you.” He urged the students to “keep this scholarly attitude close to your heart, because ideologues don’t solve big problems. This world needs an infusion of young people who are willing to tackle big problems.”

The featured speaker, Amory Lovins, energy scientist and co-founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute, spoke about global climate change and the environmental hazards facing planet Earth. He suggested that we must overcome our fear and avoid losing all hope, as lack of hope can often lead to inaction. The way, Lovins argued, to feel better about the future is to “improve it tangibly, durably, reproducibly, and scalably.” Lovins went on to suggest that this is a critical moment in time. “It is time to be practitioners not theorists, to do solutions not problems, to do transformation not incrementalism … it’s time to shift our action from somebody should to I will.”

He asked the audience to imagine a world of energy efficiency, where cars no longer needed gasoline or oil, where new buildings produced enough surplus energy to power old buildings. He asked them to imagine a world where our reliance on fossil fuel is fundamentally altered and, perhaps most important, where global climate repair has begun.

Skeptics may insist that this energy-efficient world is decades, perhaps even centuries, away. But Lovins disagrees. He said, “This world is being built before our eyes by the graduates entering the work world on this day. Imagine the power of all of us together to make it so.”