Celebrating our 250th Anniversary graduates.
Athletes who look back on their careers often focus on the first championship their team won. Recording artists might remember that first hit record, lawyers their first case. I will always have a fondness for the members of our 250th Anniversary Class of 2016—the class that started at Rutgers the same day I did. For that reason, it was particularly gratifying that their final afternoon as Rutgers students turned out to be one of the great moments in our university’s history, with the distinction of having the President of the United States as their commencement speaker.
This group of scholars is the largest graduating class in Rutgers’ 250-year history—and one of the most diverse and most accomplished of any university in the country. One in four of them were the first in their family to attend college, and many had to balance their course load with working two or more jobs. This class included four Goldwater Scholarship winners—the most any institution can win in a single year. These students had to deal with the challenges of Superstorm Sandy in their first semester and a record-setting blizzard in their final semester.
Our newest graduates were here for the formation of Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences and for the Scarlet Knights’ entry into the Big Ten Conference. Some of them were leaders on our Final Four women’s soccer team, our 10th-ranked wrestling team, and our 17th-ranked men’s lacrosse team. Over their four years, those who participated in our Dance Marathon helped raise $2.7 million for children fighting cancer.
While many of them were high school students just a few years ago, other Class of 2016 members took more unusual paths to their degrees. One of them started at Rutgers in 1986 and, after raising a family and becoming a nurse, came back to finish her bachelor’s degree 30 years later. Another left a career as a professional ballerina to become an honors medical student. One of our new graduates went from singing doo-wop to driving a Rutgers bus to enrolling and earning a Rutgers degree at 65. Indeed, the Class of 2016 is diverse in all dimensions—age, ethnicity, socioeconomic background, and life experience. In characterizing Rutgers at commencement, President Obama really got it right when he said, “America converges here.”
President Obama also acknowledged some of the class’s most notable achievers in his speech: Katherine Lau ENG’16, who helped create a prosthetic hand for a young girl, using a 3-D printer; Ryan Annibali RBS’16 and Antoni Milewski RBS’16, who were part of a team that devised rooftop wind turbines to provide electric power for office buildings; Yasmin Ramadan SAS’16, who organized anti-bullying assemblies as a 10-year-old and, at Rutgers, helped found the Muslim Public Relations Council; and Madison Little SEBS’16, who worked to battle the AIDS epidemic in countries on the other side of the globe. The president ended his assessment of our graduates by asking, “Is it any wonder that I am optimistic?”
I can assure the president his optimism is well placed. The Rutgers Class of 2016 is as well prepared as any that came before it to achieve personal and professional success and to contribute to improving the world for future generations.
My own closing words to this remarkable group of graduates were these: “Don’t forget your unique place as our 250th anniversary class. Remember our touchstone phrase for this year: Rutgers. Revolutionary for 250 Years. Take it to heart. Be revolutionary. Challenge the status quo. Change your community. Change lives. Don’t just go out and make a fortune; make a difference.”