2014 Commencement

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Nobel Laureate William Daniel Phillips urges 2014 graduates ‘Take part in the life of the mind’

As you go through life, use what you have learned — and will continue to learn — to have fun. In fact, have a blast.

That was the central message Nobel laureate William Daniel Phillips demonstrated to Rochester Institute of Technology graduates, their families and friends at the university’s 129th annual convocation, the opening event of the 2014 commencement weekend.

In a highly entertaining presentation, Phillips employed balloons, liquid nitrogen, carnations, rubber bands and a racquetball to demonstrate not only some principals of physics, but also the importance of finding fun in your life’s work.

“Perhaps you were expecting something more profound,” said Phillips, an award-winning researcher with the National Institute of Standards and Technology who shared the 1997 Nobel Prize in physics. “Something along the lines of how your status as RIT graduates gives you a special responsibility to make a positive difference in your communities near and far, and in the lives of those you touch. Of course, that is true. But I think you are both smart enough and good enough to have figured that out already. What you might have forgotten is that you can do all that while having fun.”

“Doing science, as I do, is a lot of fun,” Phillips added. “In fact doing anything that you love to do is a lot of fun. And one of the most important things you have learned in your time at RIT is how to have fun by exercising your mind. You have learned how to learn. I hope that you are going to use what you have learned here at RIT to make the world a little better. ”

Phillips encouraged the graduates to be lifelong learners, to “have that wonderful, inexpressibly exciting opportunity to take part in the life of the mind.”

“Read, learn, do,” he said. “Your education may or may not be the ticket to a financially successful career connected to your field of study. That will depend on chance and circumstance as well as on your own desires, hard work and ability. But your education is surely the ticket to a life of fun in learning and of using that learning to make a difference. I hope that you will use that ticket to travel far and wide and deep in the world of the intellect.”

Prior to Phillips’ address, the audience heard from RIT Student Government President Paul Darragh.

“I am not planning on standing up here saying how proud I am of you or what good you will do out in that place they call the real world. We already know that you will rock it,” Darragh said. “You went to RIT and made it through. You have already proven that you can do great things and that no matter what you do after graduation, you will inspire the rest of us at RIT.”

RIT President Destler also spoke, offering his remarks in American Sign Language, as well. In his brief talk, he encouraged the graduates to take forward the life lessons learned during their college years.

“What you do and how much you enjoy it will be more important than how much money you make,” Destler said. “And if you enjoy your work, you will be more successful in your careers. Make new friends both inside and outside of your work environment. And find ways to contribute to your communities and give back when you can. The world is not a perfect place, but you can make it better through your good works.”

Academic Convocation serves as RIT’s campus-wide commemoration of the conclusion to another successful academic year. During the ceremony, President Destler conferred degrees on some 4,000 undergraduate and graduate students. Diplomas are then distributed to graduates following the event at separate ceremonies held by each of RIT’s nine colleges and two academic centers.

To read the full text of Phillips’s speech, go to www.rit.edu/news/story.php?id=50818.