Each of the more than 4,300 graduates this year from Rochester Institute of Technology should be proud of their achievement, be excited about what’s next in their lives, and remember, with grace, what it took to reach this milestone.
“I encourage you to fully leverage the lessons you’ve learned here at RIT and catalyze that to position yourselves as leaders and creators of a better, brighter, more equitable future for all of us,” the keynote speaker said. Kimberly Bryant, founder of the non-profit organization. Black Girls CODE organization. “Remember that every experience, even the most painful ones, can lead to ever greater freedom, both for you and for those you choose to serve with the knowledge and skills you have acquired here.”
This was just some of what graduates and their families, friends, faculty, staff and trustees heard during the 137th RIT Academic Convocation held Friday morning at Gordon Field House and Activities. Center.
Wearing various lanyards, sashes, or medallions to signify sports, clubs, student government, honors program, study abroad, fraternities and sororities, veterans, and more, graduates nervously lined up before the procession to their seats, adjusting their robes and mortarboards and remembering that their tassels hang to the right until the end of the ceremony. More than 50 doctorates are also awarded this weekend.
Danyell Monk, a film and animation major from Canajoharie, NY, customized his cap for the special occasion, painting a pun on a Weezer band album, featuring images of RIT mascot RITchie and herself. She was president of Fowl Play, an RIT student comedy troupe, and after graduating, she went to Syracuse University to earn a master’s degree in broadcast and digital journalism.
“This graduation is a big deal because for so much of my college career I haven’t been able to go home and see immunocompromised family members,” Monk said. “My mum is here today which is really special.”
RIT President David Munson welcomed the graduates, their families and friends, faculty, staff and administrators who were in attendance, and thanked the university family for their dedication to persevering during the COVID pandemic.
“What an honor it has been for me to be your president,” he said. “Today, we have over 4,300 students, at all levels of study, graduating this spring. This includes our students at our campuses located in China, Croatia, Dubai and Kosovo. We are truly a global university.
In his address, Munson reminded graduates to serve a greater good in the world.
“The world needs more RIT Tigers,” he said. “I hope you wake up tomorrow not just focusing on how to make a living, but rather that you go out and do your best to enrich the world. Indeed, RIT alumni – now 140,000 with you included – are emblematic of goodness.
RIT Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Ellen Granberg, who served as emcee for the event, and Jeffrey Harris, Chairman of the RIT Board of Trustees, awarded four honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, including one in absentia to the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who courageously leads the efforts against the Russian invasion of his country.
Sergey Lyshevski, Professor of Electrical and Microelectronics Engineering at Kate Gleason College of Engineering, and Regina Kiperman-Kiselgof, Deputy Director of the Co-Op and Career Center at RIT’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf, both with ties to Ukraine , spoke and signed respectively as Zelenskyy’s award was presented to two current RIT Ukraine students, Seva Ivanchenko, an electrical engineering major, and her sister Sofia Iziumtseva, a freshman.
They said Zelenskyy displays “outstanding bravery and exceptional leadership” and “is an example of consistent action on a global scale.” Members of the RIT community stand in solidarity with President Zelensky and the Ukrainian people against tyranny and in favor of peace. We are joined by more than two dozen institutions of higher learning across the country in recognizing Mr. Zelenskyy’s strength with the concurrent presentation of honorary degrees.
Other honorary degree recipients were:
Bryant for his dedication to social change in the fields of technology. She helped Black Girls CODE grow from a grassroots initiative in 2011 to an international organization with 15 chapters across the United States and South Africa. Black Girls CODE has reached over 30,000 students and continues to thrive.
Josephine King Olsen, former director of the Peace Corps, for her lifelong commitment to volunteer service, commitment to leadership development, focus on community issues, global social policy advocacy, and facilitation of international exchanges of students and professors. She was the keynote speaker for RIT’s virtual launch in 2020.
And G. Peter Jemison, a member of the Heron Clan of the Seneca Indian Nation, for his dedication to improving opportunities for Native American peoples, including his assistance in forming the Friends of Ganondagan. He was RIT’s first Native American Minett Professor, in the 2007-2008 academic year, is also a renowned filmmaker, writer, and artist, and his paintings, videos, and multimedia works have been exhibited in solo and group exhibitions in the whole world.
“The four remarkable individuals who have been selected to receive honorary degrees this year are the epitome of everything we represent at RIT. It is an honor to recognize these extraordinary personalities in this very special way,” said Munson. “Because of their creativity and innovation, their commitment to social justice and equality, and their selfless service to others, we hold them in high esteem and are proud to have them in the RIT family.”
This year’s Outstanding Alumni Award winners, Bal and Anita Dixit, were also honored for their continued support of RIT and their professional achievements.
In his commencement speech, Bryant told graduates that they had to be prepared for many peaks and valleys in life, and it was important to stay graceful in both. She called grace “the lifeline that our best leaders grasp in the midst of our valleys. When things fall apart, and believe me, it’s grace that gives you a purifying breath. It’s what helps you get through and stand in the midst of adversity.
She spoke of a recent career change and her contemplation of life while on a spiritual retreat with friends in a Mexican forest.
“All the things I believed in and trusted quickly crumbled around me,” she said. “I bravely faced perhaps the most important battle of my life. I thought I was fine. Yet halfway through, as my hiking companions and I followed our guide through a beautiful valley in the center from this sacred natural space, I found myself overwhelmed with emotion. As I cried in the middle of the forest, lying in a fetal position, I released waves of pain and grief I never knew existed. me. I cried. And I cried again. And as my companions rallied to gently comfort me, I slowly gathered myself together. At that moment, I understood for the first time so clearly that sometimes, things fall apart… for better things to fall into place.
Outgoing Student Government President Lucas Randrianarivelo also congratulated his fellow graduates as they begin new chapters in their lives.
“We have just started. We are at the bottom of the mountain looking at all the goals, desires and things that we want to achieve and do with our lives. Now we can start climbing the mountain,” he said. I hope you are ready, because the best times of our lives are still ahead of us.”
Before we begin, Regine Thimothee, a web and mobile computing major from Bloomfield, NJ, reflected on the ups and downs she experienced during her time at RIT. She changed majors after her freshman year and eventually discovered her passion for mobile development. She begins work as an associate developer for ADP in her home country.
“At the end of the day, I don’t regret anything I’ve done here and I’ve certainly learned a lot about myself,” she said. “For all new students, I would say don’t be afraid to explore new material, and that sounds cliché, but don’t feel bad about asking for help.”