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Clarkson University Awards Degrees to 770 Students at 123rd Commencement

Clarkson University awarded 770 bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees to students from 33 states, 23 countries and 61 New York state counties at its 123rd commencement today, Saturday, May 7. (An additional 278 students received degrees this past winter and summer.)

Commencement 2016The weekend was also marked by the commissioning of United States Army and United States Air Force officers on Friday.

Selma Mededovic Thagard, an associate professor of chemical & biomolecular engineering in Clarkson University's Wallace H. Coulter School of Engineering, was 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."

Mike Wasserman, an associate professor of organizational studies in Clarkson University's School of Business, 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.

Commencement 2016Senior Leah C. Granger of Flowery Branch, Ga., was awarded the Levinus Clarkson Award, and senior Emily Gonthier of Norfolk, 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 Deborah A. Elam, GE chief diversity officer and GE Foundation president; author Karl Marlantes; and Opal Tometi, executive director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration.

"Make your steps bold, challenge the status quo, take big, calculated risks, and most importantly, always, always, always strive for excellence," said Elam in addressing the graduates. "My parents instilled in me from a very early age to work hard to be the absolute best at whatever I did -- no matter what it was. And I pass that advice on to you. Whether it’s being the president of a foundation -- like me -- an engineer, a scientist, a manager or an innovator -- whatever it is you chose to do with your life, vow to be the absolute best at it."

Commencement 2016Elam also quoted Harriet Tubman, saying, "Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world. You see, that’s the real secret to success -- passion, drive and a commitment to continue to dream. You have everything within you to do exactly what you set out to do."

"War is terrible, and yet I am not a pacifist," said Marlantes in his remarks to the students. "I am, however, hopeful that someday we will see an end to war. I doubt that we’ll see it -- defined as I do, violence between armed groups -- in our lifetimes. But, we're on a good track and I'm optimistic. More Americans were killed in a single day at Normandy than have been killed in 15 years of war in Afghanistan… As I said, I'm not a pacifist; I’m a proud Marine and Marines are not pacifists. Pacifism only works if everyone is a pacifist. If just one person is willing to use murder and violence and no one else, then we give that person power over our lives and values that a pacifist can only counteract by willingly going to his or her death."

"You should revel in your accomplishment, but this is only the beginning," said Tometi in her speech to the graduates. "You have to keep going. And at this point in your journey, you know what you've only begun. When you have privilege -- like what you have with your degree -- you have a responsibility. And when you have a bit of accomplishment under your belt, it is also your duty to do something with it. To be the solution with your new distinction, with your resources, with your gifts. To leverage your privilege so that all can have access to similar opportunities if they wish -- because this is just. In times like these it is important to be all of who you are no matter your race, your religion, your ability, your immigration status, your gender or sexuality because the world actually needs you!"

Clarkson also recognized in absentia three individuals, who were unable to attend the ceremony due to personal and professional commitments: Patrisse K. Cullors, director for truth and reinvestment at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights; Alicia Garza, special projects director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance; and Pentti A. Paatero, principal of YP-Tekniikka Ky.

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer also addressed the graduates.

Clarkson University educates the leaders of the global economy. One in five alumni already leads as an owner, CEO, VP or equivalent senior executive of a company. With its main campus located in Potsdam, N.Y., and additional graduate program and research facilities in the Capital Region and Beacon, New York, Clarkson is a nationally recognized research university with signature areas of academic excellence and research directed toward the world's pressing issues. Through more than 50 rigorous programs of study in engineering, business, arts, education, sciences and the health professions, the entire learning-living community spans boundaries across disciplines, nations and cultures to build powers of observation, challenge the status quo, and connect discovery and innovation with enterprise.

[Photographs for media use are available at, and]

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Annie Harrison, Director of Media Relations, at 315-268-6764 or]

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