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Over 700 Students Receive Degrees at Clarkson University's 121st Commencement Ceremony

More than 700 Clarkson University students from 29 states, 34 countries and 58 New York state counties were granted bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees at Clarkson University’s 121st commencement today, Saturday, May 10. (An additional 236 students received degrees in the winter.)

Commencement ceremony, 2014The weekend was also marked by the commissioning of United States Army and United States Air Force officers on Friday.

Receiving honorary degrees and addressing students, families and guests were former U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and Bridges to Prosperity CEO Avery Bang.

Senior Nicholas F. Marshall of Huntington, Vt., was awarded the Levinus Clarkson Award, and senior Pinguang Yang of Brooklyn, 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."

Stephen T. Casper, an associate professor of history in the School of Arts & Sciences, 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."

Brian T. Helenbrook, an associate professor of mechanical and aeronautical engineering in the Wallace H. Coulter School of Engineering, 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.

"As you embark on this incredible journey beyond Clarkson, I really suggest to you just one thing," said Bang in addressing the students. "Don’t question your ability. Don’t get too wrapped up about which grad school to go to or what job or what salary point. Your success is forthcoming, I promise."

"Be inspired. Do something to give back to society if you can. Definitely follow your dreams. Be available for your friends and family. Support your colleagues and siblings in their crazy, wild ambitions. Expect them to do the same.

"I’ll hedge my bets that as we all look back from the next decades to come, it’s not going to be about titles and accolades and progressive growth through a company. But it’s going to be about the people that we have touched and the lives that we have changed.

"If you have the ability, share that privilege and opportunity, that you’ve been given, with others. If mentoring is your thing, go be a big brother or big sister. If you’re into construction, like I am, maybe it’s showing up at a habitat for humanity site and getting some young person excited about engineering. Serve your local soup kitchen. Serve at your church. Whatever you do, I beg of you, please find inspiration in your day-to-day. Whether it’s at home, at your job, if it’s half a world away, it’s within each and every one of us."

"I admit I was a techie, too," said Chu in addressing the graduates. "I was so much of a techie growing up, I didn’t realize how nerdy I was. I didn’t realize you should try to hide how nerdy you were. That made me a geek. What’s the difference? A geek is a nerd who’s proud of it.

"You might look at my bio and say, ‘Whoa, this guy did a lot.’ But it wasn’t always so. In ninth grade, I didn’t want to go to school, so I stopped."

Chu said that, after eventually finishing high school, it was in college where he learned about self-confidence.

“My teachers began to build my self-confidence.," said Chu. "And from what I’ve seen of Clarkson, there’s a lot of that going on here.

“I learned early in life that failing is actually OK. It’s important to fail. And I tell my students that if you live your life without failures, then that’s the biggest failure of your life. You would have never known what you could’ve done. In my scientific career, three quarters of the stuff I tried did not work. The secret is, when you fail, you have to fail fast—and move on. You don’t want to spend a lifetime failing.”

In closing, Chu said, “I’m going to leave you with this thought. As I stand before you, old and gray, you have your life before you. Time will flash by faster than you can imagine. So do what excites you, what you care about. Do something you really believe in. Above all, enjoy life."

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer was also at the ceremony.

Clarkson University launches leaders into the global economy. One in five alumni already leads as a CEO, VP or equivalent senior executive of a company. Located just outside the Adirondack Park in Potsdam, N.Y., Clarkson is a nationally recognized research university for undergraduates with select graduate programs in signature areas of academic excellence directed toward the world’s pressing issues. Through 50 rigorous programs of study in engineering, business, arts, sciences and health sciences, 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 engineering 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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