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Photo of Cora Marrett

Dr. Cora Marrett
Deputy Director
National Science Foundation

From a Grateful Nation
Commencement Remarks
New York City College of Technology
New York, New York

June 3, 2014

I come today to thank you, the graduating class of 2014, on behalf of our entire nation.

What, you might well ask, qualifies me to speak as proxy for all the citizens of the United States?

You might expect me to echo parents, family members and friends who have shared your disappointments and joys over the years.

Or I could be the voice of those who stand to benefit, as you can now start re-paying your student loans.

But, no, I intercede more generally, drawing on the widespread interest shown in technology and innovation, in the widening of participation in technological careers, and in the understanding of what preparation for such careers demands.

I want to use these circumstances to explain and underscore my expression of appreciation.

Before turning to these observations, let me make an additional confession. I know it is customary for commencement speakers to offer sage advice, based on the unfolding of their own careers.

But my career has hardly followed a straight course; and to suggest otherwise would be to present to you an autobiography that the record cannot sustain.

The themes I promote today do indeed derive from particular experiences and encounters I have had, but the themes have unfolded through far from a straightforward process.

Technology and Innovation in International Perspective

Let me begin with reflections on technology and innovation in the contemporary world.

I value greatly the opportunities I have had to interact with policy makers in the United States and elsewhere.

Quite noticeable is the stress they place on innovation, as they strive to improve the lives of their citizens.

Significantly, the quest centers increasingly on knowledge and technology, and especially on those sectors described collectively as knowledge and technology intensive (KTI).

These are sectors that City Tech embraces: advanced communications, industrial design, commerce and business, and health care.

The policy makers highlight these sectors in their search for innovations targeted to public well-being.

Right now, the United States remains the leader internationally in investments in the knowledge and technology intensive sector.

The gap with the rest of the world is narrowing, however, as Asian nations--China in particular--invest more and more heavily in this sector.

The City Tech Class of 2014 enlarges the population of our citizens prepared to continue and accelerate the innovativeness this nation derives through science, technology, and engineering.

But it is more than international competitiveness that warrants recognition today.

You, today's graduates, expand the talent that can contribute to the global storehouse of knowledge that is so critical to innovation.

The directions you are prepared to pursue hold promise for creativity, not just in the United States, but also for the international realm in which we are inextricably enmeshed.

Perhaps it would not be too extreme for me to express gratitude for more than the people of the United States.

Technology: Embracing All Talent

The fortunes of our nation depend heavily on our ability to attract to the knowledge and technology sector diverse segments of our population.

We, the senior managers of the National Science Foundation, aim to redouble our efforts to broaden the composition of the technological community in the nation.

City Tech is important to that commitment. I applaud the fact that for nearly 70 years this institution has been a "beacon of opportunity."

The commitment to diversity remains, evident in the representation in the current student population of persons from 140 countries and from households where English is not the first language.

We at the National Science Foundation are privileged to have City Tech as a partner in promoting diversity in STEM--science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

I have in mind the funding City Tech has received to support scholars in STEM areas writ large and in computer science, engineering and mathematics more specifically. Worthy of note as well are the activities City Tech has undertaken to bring underrepresented groups into the Geosciences and to make mathematics more attractive to women.

Now, we did not just hand out the money for these projects, of course. Rather, the awards came through a highly competitive process, one centered on the merit of the idea and plan to execute it. Graduates: I am certain that you have benefitted from the presence of faculty and staff who rank among the best in the nation--indicated in no small part by the impressive resources they have garnered from the National Science Foundation.

Thank you, all of City Tech--faculty, administrators, students--for demonstrating that diversity is by no means an elusive or abstract goal.

Building Solid Skills

By all indications, City Tech provides the experiences shown to promote success.

Studies show us that effective learning takes place through authentic encounters, or those most closely aligned with real-life careers.

City Tech stands out for its emphasis on both academic and workplace learning.

To the graduates: I am certain that you recall fondly the access you have had to cutting-edge research--in on-campus laboratories, entrepreneurial start-ups, clinical environments, and culinary settings in Paris!

My prediction: the impact of these opportunities will deepen, as you assess them against the backdrop of your post-graduate circumstances.

What should deepen, too, is an appreciation for the broad education City Tech has made possible. The innovative workforce this nation seeks is one that is not just technically proficient but is regarded as well-educated.

President Hotzler has described City Tech as having one foot in the present and one in the future.

Such an arrangement (although physically awkward!) requires not just knowledge useful for current problems but also preparation for challenges not yet known.

If there is one lesson I can offer from my own complicated journey, it is this: the capacity to continue to learn and the interest in doing so are indispensable for tackling an unknown future.

In that sense, the term commencement is apt, for graduation is the beginning of an excursion whose routes and points of termination are not easily predicted.

Concluding Observations

Thank you, the larger City Tech community, for all you have done to make this occasion possible--and joyful.

Thank you, 2014 graduates, for honing the skills and developing the attributes so pivotal for now and what lies ahead.

You may not hear your names blasted from the Green Mountains of New Hampshire to the Mojave Desert of the Far West; from the beaches of the Aloha state to the tundra of Alaska. But take my word for it: you have the support of the nation for what you have accomplished thus far and all you will undertake that will make you invaluable assets to your family, your community, your alma mater--and your country.

Again: Thank you!