New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) bestowed 2,063 degrees during its May 18 graduation ceremony held at the Continental Airlines Arena, East Rutherford. The university awarded bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees during the three-hour ceremony.
NJIT gave an honorary degree to New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, who delivered the keynote address. Corzine, a former senator, was honored for his commitments to the nation as well as to the state.
“NJIT is an institution of excellence, one that provides students with an outstanding educational experience,” said Corzine. “NJIT has provided this education for 125 years, and you who graduate today are entering an uncertain world with a great education. Godspeed to you and I hope all of you realize your full promise and potential.”
NJIT President Robert A. Altenkirch said that with this graduation the university has awarded a total of 61,560 degrees. He called this graduating class one of the largest and finest in the history of the university.
“This year, 2006, marks the 125th anniversary of the founding in 1881 of NJIT’s earliest predecessor institution, Newark Technical School,” Altenkirch said in his opening address to the students. “Today, NJIT works in partnership with Newark in its redevelopment efforts and statewide in sustaining a competent workforce for our knowledge-based economy, in contributing directly to it through business incubation, and in linking to industry through research.”
NJIT also gave an honorary degree to Nancy Jane Kopell, a professor of mathematics at Boston University, citing her outstanding academic achievements in the mathematical sciences. Kopell, co-director of the Center for BioDynamics, launched a multidisciplinary effort that combines advanced mathematics, biology and engineering to gain a better understanding of physiological systems in humans and other species, and to develop new medical devices and treatments. She also co-founded the Program in Mathematical and Computational Neuroscience to provide graduate students and post-doctoral associates with a background in the physical sciences that will advance work in neuroscience.
Another honorary degree was awarded to Jaron Lanier, a scientist, composer, visual artist and author whose name is closely associated with virtual reality research. He coined the term “virtual reality” and in the early 1980s founded VPL Research, the first company to market virtual reality products. Lanier led the development of the first multi-person virtual worlds experienced using head-mounted displays, as well as the first “avatars,” or representations of users within such systems. He and his colleagues at VPL developed the first implementations of virtual reality in surgical simulation, vehicle interior prototyping and television production.
Lanier is a pianist and specialist in unusual musical instruments — especially the wind and string instruments of Asia. He also writes chamber and orchestral music, and has pioneered the use of virtual reality in musical stage performance.
Erica D’Almeida, of Warren, was the ceremony’s undergraduate speaker.
Almeida, who received a degree in architecture, was a vice president for the Student Senate and senior class president. She worked as a leader for NJIT’s Miniversity, which gives high school students tours of the campus, and served on a committee that oversaw the restoration of Eberhardt Hall, NJIT’s oldest and most distinguished building.
The life of Rita Thornton, the commencement’s graduate-student speaker, was chronicled in the award-winning film The Ditchdigger’s Daughter. When Thornton was a child, her father, who worked as a ditchdigger, wanted all six of his daughters to become doctors. Thornton, the first black woman to earn a doctorate in environmental science from NJIT, was the fourth of her sisters to earn a doctoral degree. For her dissertation, she studied air pollution in two Newark neighborhoods, analyzing how pollutants near to pre-schools trigger asthma in children. Her research prompted officials to install air pollution devices in pre schools so that children could breathe cleaner air. Corzine referred to her in his speech as “inspirational.”
“When walking around the NJIT campus,” said Thornton, “I noticed that NJIT had a new slogan: “The edge in knowledge.” My parents told my sisters and I that knowledge is the cutting instrument of life. People perish for the lack of knowledge; but with the proper knowledge, you can cut through any obstacle. And to cut through any obstacle, they said, the cutting instrument must be razor sharp. NJIT has given us students that sharpness by challenging us to find innovative ways to use science and technology to improve businesses, government and our communities.”