The next generation

HOUGHTON – Nearly 1,000 graduates were honored at Michigan Technological University’s Spring Commencement Saturday with 747 students receiving bachelor’s degrees, 203 master’s degrees and 38 Ph.D.s.

“You’ve come from across the nation and around the world to be here and you’ve learned more than you probably thought you might. I dare say when you leave here, you’re going to learn even more spread out around the globe as you meet your next challenges and opportunities and you’ll learn a lot more,” said Michigan Tech President Glenn Mroz as he welcomed the graduates and their families and friends.

Student speaker Collin Doerr-Newton, a sound design major who was chosen to speak after submitting and reciting his speech to a panel, likened Michigan Tech to a piece of music. Originally from Lansing, Doerr-Newton said that he frequently encounters the idea that everyone at Michigan Tech is the same. They are, he agreed, just as much as they aren’t.

“We, as members of the Michigan Tech community, are like music notes,” he said.

“Someone who doesn’t know any better just sees a bunch of markings on a piece of paper, but those familiar with music know that each note provides an important element to the overall composition. Each note serves a unique purpose, just like every student at this University.”

Without each note, or each individual student, the Michigan Tech experience would be lacking, he said. Noting the many accomplishments and opportunities of his peers, he asked the audience to consider what Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony would sound like if it were missing even one note. It would sound wrong, he concluded.

Leland D. Melvin, a former astronaut and associate administrator for education at NASA, shared his journey to space with the graduates as the featured speaker. Melvin’s mother, he said, used to read him “The Little Engine That Could” before bed, and he kept the mantra “I think I can” running through his head when he faced adversity on his road to becoming an astronaut.

After being told he would never be able to become an astronaut when he inexplicably lost his hearing during a training exercise, Melvin said he could have quit. Instead, he continued working for NASA and was eventually given the opportunity to go into space and operated the robotic arm on two missions to the International Space System. After his first successful operation with the robotic arm, he “floated over” to join some international colleagues for dinner.

“We are breaking bread together in this outpost with people we used to fight against – Germany and Russia – and we have the first female commander of the International Space Station. People ask me ‘What was that one thing that really moved you in space?’ And I said it was this international smorgasbord at 240 miles,” he said. “That is what we do as scientists and engineers – we help advance our civilization.”

For the graduates of Michigan Tech, he said, the future holds an opportunity for great progress and innovation. With a Michigan Tech education, the graduates are well poised to contribute to that progress.

“Think about how we as a civilization are going to save our planet. A lot of it has to do with the people who create, the people who motivate, the people who inspire.”