Byline: Thomas Caywood
WORCESTER - As challenges go, they don't get much tougher than those put to the graduates of Worcester Polytechnic Institute's class of 2013 during Saturday's commencement.
Keynote speaker Eric S. Lander, a pioneer of human genetics, noted that just a few days ago scientists had measured the highest average concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide since the observations have been kept as a key indicator of global climate change.
Mr. Lander said the tangible danger lurking behind the measurements, which likely haven't been this high for some 3 million years, can be felt in the increasing frequency of extreme weather events, such as Superstorm Sandy and withering heat waves.
"I'm counting on your generation," said Mr. Lander, president of The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. "Political leaders can only do so much. At best, they can buy time and create incentives for innovation. The innovations themselves must come from technologists. The ultimate solution will come from your generation developing low-carbon technologies that are simple and cheaper than fossil fuels, so that markets adopt them."
And solving climate change was only one of the major projects assigned by speakers to the graduates, who collected 1,165 degrees under ominous skies during WPI's 145th commencement yesterday.
Robert Cahill, president of WPI's Alumni Association, exhorted the graduates to rebuild the nation's infrastructure, eliminate poverty, end ignorance, find a cure for cancer and, while they're at it, be kind. Mr. Cahill also tasked the handful of graduates who were commissioned as officers in the nation's armed forces before commencement to protect the country from aggression.
But the first test for many of the graduates, many of whom have racked up sizable debts to complete their educations, will be to find jobs in an economy limping back to health after what Mr. Lander called "The Great Recession" of recent years.
Emily Anness, 23, of Providence, who graduated with a bachelor's degree in environmental engineering, said she wasn't too daunted by the lukewarm economy.
"I'm not really that nervous about it," Ms. Anness said of the job market. "It is scary, I'm not going to lie - but something good will come out of all this."
She will soon be joined in the job market by WPI President Dennis D. Berkey, who announced at the end of the ceremony that he was stepping down at the end of the month after nine years leading the institute.
Mr. Berkey, a mathematician who spent three decades at Boston University before taking over as WPI president in 2004, said he wasn't sure what was next for his career, but that he intended to continue working after taking some time off.
While it appeared the gray skies might open at any time on the thousands of graduates and their families sitting in the open quad, all but light rain held off until just as the ceremony was wrapping up. Many of the graduates set off into the post-college world with clear plastic ponchos over their gowns.
In addition to 781 bachelor's degrees...