“The future of our planet looks dark with rising seas and an atmosphere that is heating up rapidly. Violent storms. But if you hold that telescope to your eye, if you hold your degree to your eye, and focus on points of life, you might see something different. You might see hope.”
That was the message of William Shatner, who spoke at commencement for the New England Institute of Technology on Sunday. He also received an honorary doctorate degree in humane letters from the university.
The Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence was nearly filled to capacity as proud family members called out to new graduates on the main floor, which was transformed from a hockey rink into a stage with rows of chairs. Grand processional music played as graduates entered the arena, and well-wishing balloons and signs were scattered throughout the audience.
Exactly 1,180 students graduated from NEIT, with degrees in fields such as nursing, automotive repair and mechanical engineering.
Shatner, 87, is among a long list of distinguished speakers to come to the NEIT commencement. David Ortiz, Leonard Nimoy, Billie Jean King and Bill Belichick have also spoken at the ceremony.
The famous actor played Captain Kirk, head of the ship Enterprise for the Star Trek franchise. Apart from his acting career, Shatner has authored more than 30 books and is a noted philanthropist who hosts the Hollywood Charity Horse Show to help raise money for charity. Shatner has also released a musical album, Seeking Major Tom and has been involved in horse breeding. In his address Shatner focused on his desire for “hope in a changing world.”
“The real world has many facets, and the graduating student can get lost,” said Shatner. “But there’s another aspect to life. Hope for the future. Hope for work, and hope for happiness. Your degree becomes a telescope for hope.”
Shatner’s message to the NEIT Class of 2018 focused on the profound changes consuming our modern world, and the way NEIT graduates can make a difference by using new technologies for good, not bad. Shatner stressed the relationship between good and bad technologies, such as technologies that spew pollution and those that prevent it.
“It’s a race between technology that is killing us and technology that will spare us,” said Shatner.
Shatner talked about new satellites and drones that could change warfare, as well as innovative solar power designs and plans for new cities that will rise into the clouds. He also discussed the one aspect of the world that’s more resistant to change above all others: human nature.
“The hardest change of all the changes we need to make is human nature. Our minds are geared for fight or flight. We still have the prehistoric needs to be clannish, territorial, and warlike. We still desire to breed as often as possible, to have cheap labor. All this guarantees us zero future. In order to survive our changing world, mankind needs to change.”
Neil D. Steinberg, president of the Rhode Island Foundation, was awarded an honorary degree for his philanthropic work in Rhode Island. Steinberg has helped about 1,700 local non-profits.
“I don’t think I could’ve graduated from college in any other way,” said Cameron Emond, of Somerset, Mass., who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in architecture from NEIT’s three- year accelerated program, as well as an associate’s degree in construction management. Cameron gushed about the small classes and close relationships with professors. He’s already working with Encore Fire Protection in Pawtucket.
“You can actually talk to your professors instead of your professors talking to you,” said Troy Balfour Jr., of Tiverton, who also graduated from the same accelerated architecture and construction management program.
Many graduates spoke of the close relationships they enjoyed with their professors.
“No one ever said professor,” said Wyatt Fisher of North Kingstown, who graduated with a degree in digital media production. He’s already working for WPRI-TV Channel 12 in Rhode Island.
Justin Wurtz of Coventry, graduated from the same digital media production program. He’s now working with the Pawtucket Red Sox, helping with filming and broadcasts.
“Everyone gets a connection,” said Justin, of his professors.
George Meoidossian, of Johnston, had two kids graduate on Sunday. Julia graduated with a veterinary technician degree, while George Jr., graduated with a mechanical engineering degree. He’s returning to New England Tech next year for night classes to pursue a master’s in mechanical engineering.
“They were top ten in their class,” said Meoidossian. “It was a good experience for both of them.”
NEIT was founded in 1940 by Earnest G. Earle in downtown Providence. The initial graduating class consisted of only 20 students in a radio repair course. In 1971, Richard Gouse became president of New England Tech. Under his leadership the school added academic programs and increased enrollment. Now the school serves 3,000 students and offers over 50 degree programs. President Gouse is the longest serving university president in the United States.
Mayor Scott Avedisian also spoke, saying “these ceremonies punctuate the end of one journey, but lead you into a new journey.” He urged the students to embrace change. “Change can be scary but it can also be a good factor. Change forces us to adapt.”
NEIT graduates enter the workforce ready to perform vital technical services for their communities. As Seth Magaziner, state general treasurer, said, “We have more jobs than any time in our history, and this would not be happening without the vital role that NEIT has played in our state’s economic revival.”
Look for an NEIT graduate working near you soon.