Clarkson University awarded more than 750 bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees to students from 27 states, 22 countries and 57 New York state counties at its spring 2019 commencement, today, Saturday, May 11. (An additional 338 students received degrees this past winter and summer.)
The weekend was also marked by the commissioning of United States Army and United States Air Force officers on Friday.
Mario Wriedt, an associate professor of chemistry & biomolecular science in Clarkson University's School of Arts & Sciences, and Zijie Yan, an assistant professor of chemical & biomolecular engineering in the Wallace H. Coulter School of Engineering, were awarded the John W. Graham Jr. Faculty Research Award. The $1,500 research accounts are presented to "faculty members who have shown promise in engineering, business, liberal arts or scientific research."
Leslie Russek, an associate professor of physical therapy in the School of Arts & Sciences, was awarded the Distinguished Teaching Award. The $1,500 prize is given "in recognition of the importance of superior teaching." Candidates are nominated for the award by Clarkson alumni and the final selection is made by a faculty committee.
Senior Ryan Burnham of Fairport, N.Y., was awarded the Levinus Clarkson Award, and senior Sarah Duclos of Clifton Park, N.Y., received the Frederica Clarkson Award. Both are $1,000 prizes given to "a student who demonstrates the best combination of scholarship and promise of outstanding professional achievement."
In addition to the graduating students, receiving honorary doctor of science degrees and addressing students, families and guests were Dorr B. Begnal ’83, co-founder and managing director of Winthrop Square Capital, and Gregory L. Verdine, the Erving Professor of Chemistry at Harvard University and Harvard Medical School, and president and CEO of FogPharma and LifeMine Therapeutics.
Begnal spoke about the things in life that worked for him to help make him successful. “I’ve been humble enough to know that great ideas come from different places. I’ve always embraced humor. It’s a failsafe for making everyone feel better,” he said.
“I try to surround myself with people who when I say I’ve got an idea, they don’t respond with, ‘oh no, now what?’ Instead their reaction is, ‘that’s great, let’s hear it!’” He went on to stress the importance of being kind. “In a world where we can be anything we want, I choose to be kind. I know when people are given an equal opportunity to thrive, really great things happen.”
“Clarkson produces great problem-solvers. They’re usually the first in the room that points out the best solution that usually is the simplest and the most overlooked,” he said.
Verdine relayed advice he received from his grandfather, telling graduates that when someone offers a gift that they should take it with gratitude, but never to doubt their worthiness or worry about how they might repay that gift.
“The greatest gifts are the ones that you don’t quite yet deserve, the ones that inspire you to live up to them, that spur you to achieve, that orient you toward generosity, that ground you in humility and graciousness,” he said. “Live your life in honor of their gift. Then find someone in need of a gift from you – you’d be surprised how small a gesture of kindness and generosity can transform a life.”
U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer also addressed the graduates.