May 15, 2023
On Sunday, May 14, Olin College celebrated the Class of 2023 at a joyful Commencement ceremony celebrating the accomplishments of Olin’s 18th class of graduates.
During the ceremony, Olin awarded its second-ever honorary degree to Dr. Shirley Malcom, Olin’s featured Commencement speaker, in recognition of her exemplary contributions as a respected leader in the scientific community. “Dr. Malcom truly personifies the Olin spirit: asking good questions, believing that innovation is possible, and changing the world for the better,” said President Gilda Barabino during the degree presentation.
Dean of faculty and professor of anthropology Caitrin Lynch led the procession of graduates into the tent and welcomed in-person guests and remote viewers. “I’d like to wish a Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers and treasured family members celebrating with us, as well as to those we are keeping in our thoughts who could not be here today,” she said.
Special guests at the ceremony included president emeritus Rick Miller and Bill Norden, founding trustee and former board chair. Other honored guests included trustees Al Bunshaft, Chee Chew, Lee Edwards ’07 and Scott Harris, as well as Stephen Spinelli, president of Babson College.
What difference will you make?
In her welcome remarks, Beverly Wyse P’15, chair of the Olin Board of Trustees, asked the graduates, “what difference will you make?” and shared a quote from Nelson Mandela: “There is no passion to be found in playing small, in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”
She continued, in her own words, “If you can find what you most want to impact, what you most want to be a part of, then you will find a gift more important than your education… you will have purpose.”
Seek inspiration from those who have gone before you
President Gilda Barabino congratulated the Class of 2023 for all they accomplished together. “You have shown determination, perseverance, and caring toward one another,” she said.
Barabino shared the story of “hidden figure” Gladys B. West, whose research laid the groundwork for today’s global positioning systems (GPS). “As Olin engineers I believe each of you will have your own personal opportunity to make an impact, just as Gladys West did. How you handle these opportunities will determine your path.”
“Begin to trust your own internal GPS,” she urged. “You’ve earned that trust. But never be afraid to re-calculate. Going back and getting it right is vital in work, in life, as friends, as professionals, as parents… We wish you safe, successful, and meaningful travels!”
The Olin Paradigm
Rob Martello, professor of the history of science and technology, was nominated by the Class of 2023 to speak on behalf of Olin faculty and staff. He addressed “the class that walked with Olin during the pandemic.” Recognizing the challenge of navigating college during the onset of a global pandemic, Martello emphasized to the graduates, “We do not take you for granted—you are our heroes.”
Martello spoke about paradigms—specifically, the “Olin Paradigm.” Paradigms are worldviews or mindsets we use to make sense of our reality and shape the way we see things, he explained. The Olin Paradigm, said Martello, is “Not something to take for granted.”
He signed off, “until we meet again.”
More than just engineers
Nominated by her peers to give remarks on behalf of the Class of 2023, Isabel Serrato touched on the things about her classmates she will remember and miss the most, especially “the supportive community of unique and fantastic individuals that is our class and Olin College.”
“Looking out into this crowd, I don’t just see a group of engineering graduates,” she said. “I see artists. Organizers. Volunteers. Climbers. Dancers. People that love doing the crossword. Musicians. Amateur radio enthusiasts. I see complex, interesting, engaging individuals. I see people.”
“When we were rather forcefully separated at the beginning of the pandemic,” she remembers having virtual lunch with classmates between QEA and ModSim, holding club and project team meetings across world time zones, volunteering for virtual Candidates Weekends and virtual school tours. “Even while we were apart, we kept the Olin spirit together.”
“I’ve seen how this class can make wonderful, positive changes in the communities we are a part of, and I’m so excited to see what everyone does after graduation,” she said. “We should celebrate everything that makes our class unique, and everything that makes us special. Because, yes, we’re an engineering school. But we're a lot more than just engineers.”
Leave things better than we found them
Dr. Shirley Malcom addressed the graduates as Olin’s featured commencement speaker. She imparted invaluable words of wisdom learned over a lifetime dedicated to STEMM and social justice, and influenced by her coming of age during the convergence of the civil rights movement and the Space Race.
Malcom was born in the late 1940s in Birmingham, Alabama, the heart of the Jim Crow South. She described herself as an “unlikely scientist.” Growing up, “I saw no women in science or engineering.” Later at the University of Washington, “I was almost always the only Black woman, and sometimes the only woman.”
While benefitting from the increased access to science and math education spurred by the Space Race, Malcom, at the same time, lived through the horrors and upheaval of the civil rights struggles of the 50s and 60s.
As Malcom made her way through college, “I appreciated the privilege I had been given to leave the South for an education. Study in science and engineering is challenging enough without also dealing with the assumptions and expectations of others about who I was and what I was and was not capable of becoming.”
“Even then, I knew we needed more inclusion and fewer naysayers,” said Malcom. “I knew that things had to change, that change was coming and that I had to be, wanted to be, an instrument of the change I wanted to see.” She urged the graduates to continue to, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice, and to channel their energy to make the world better.
Malcom concluded with this message to the Class of 2023: “I am thrilled by the idea that eighty-seven Olin-educated graduates are moving out into the world; graduates with very different lenses and perspectives, able to apply these wherever you land, to make an impact and to make change happen.”