of Academic History
Nearly 2,000 strong—undergraduates and graduate students from every college and institute comprising Illinois Institute of Technology—moved their tassels to the left in spirit as they became members of the Class of 2021 at the 152nd Commencement Ceremony, held virtually on May 15. Alan W. Cramb, in his final Commencement as Illinois Tech president, and Peter Kilpatrick, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, awarded the degrees in a pre-recorded event from the Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship.
The Commencement also featured messages from special guests: keynote speaker Ankur Jain (CS ’03), founder and chief executive officer of B9 Beverages/Bira 91; student speaker Priscilla Akpabio (ME ’21); and honorary degree recipients Arlene Harris, the president and co-founder of Dyna LLC, and John Anderson, president emeritus of Illinois Tech. (Fay Clayton (LAW ’79), not present in the pre-recorded event, also received an honorary degree.) Jain, speaking from his homeland of India, told the graduates that the global pandemic has taught the world three uniquely important lessons.
The Class of 2021 is going to have a leg up because you’ve had that additional stimulation of being faced with not only your curriculum, but also with the adversity that came with the last year of our difficult times,” — Arlene Harris
“First, it has taught us the importance of flexibility... Flexibility lets us remain humble and it ensures that we remain curious and keep on learning. Second, it has taught us the lesson of empathy.…We also became more aware of the shared struggles that we face in this generation... Third, and most importantly, it has renewed our optimism in technology and human ingenuity... And [with] this optimism—that no matter how grave the challenge—we can find a way out of it through courage and innovation is your superpower,” Jain said from across continents.
Harris, whose husband is cell phone pioneer Martin “Marty” Cooper (EE ’50, M.S. ’57), is referred to as the “first lady of wireless” because of her significant accomplishments in the field of telecommunications. She told the graduates that they each should be receiving an honorary degree in perseverance.
“The Class of 2021 is going to have a leg up because you’ve had that additional stimulation of being faced with not only your curriculum, but also with the adversity that came with the last year of our difficult times,” said Harris, before sending the graduates off with a confident flourish. “I appreciate and am humbled by the honorary degree I am getting today. It is an honor to be a party to a graduation with you all. I hope that you will see that this year has set you up to go on to solve a whole bunch of the problems that we will have to face in the future.”