Watson Commencement 2023: Go into the world to be ’change-makers’
More than 400 undergraduate students gathered to receive their diplomas
More than 400 undergraduate students gathered with family, friends, faculty and peers to receive their diplomas at the Thomas J. Watson College of Engineering and Applied Science Commencement ceremony Sunday, May 14, at the Binghamton University Events Center.
University President Harvey Stenger reminded the graduates how they began their journeys fresh out of high school, attracted to Watson College by the promise of working with solar energy, building mechanical devices that improve our quality of life or designing cutting-edge computer software.
“Of course, there are probably a few of you who made the daring choice of ‘undeclared’ before settling on your vocation,” he said. “But you already had the credits — and the grades — to get into one of our most competitive colleges.”
Stenger praised the graduates and all of the Binghamton University community for its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which started during the Class of 2023’s first year on campus.
“We tested, we made restricted social rules, we delivered thousands of meals per week to students living in isolation and quarantine in Digman and Hillside and even hotels along the parkway,” he said. “And yes, we made mistakes, but we quickly tried to correct them. But somehow, some way, we ended up here. You ended up here. Nice job, Class of 2023!”
Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Donald Hall encouraged the graduates to go into the world guided by all the lessons from their time at Binghamton.
“You will take with you what you have learned in your classes, and through design projects and competitions, participation in student organizations and the thousands of personal interactions you have had with those around you,” Hall said. “You will take all that you have experienced here and become change-makers.”
Watson College Dean and Distinguished Professor Krishnaswami “Hari” Srihari shared his gratitude for what the Class of 2023 brought to campus.
“Thank you for making Watson what it is,” Srihari said. “Your impact as a student on our campus extends beyond the grades you achieved or the projects you completed. The time you spent in the classroom and outside of the classroom make Watson and our University great. And you will continue to do that as alumni of this premier institution. You will continue to thrive.”
He also stressed that education does not — and must not — stop once graduates get their diplomas.
“We share an awesome field with infinite possibilities,” he said. “It is a field that touches many lives. It is a field full of diversity — embrace it. It is a field that is endlessly evolving. And as you grow within your career path, embrace the evolution and always keep learning — lifelong learning is a necessity in our domain.”
Two students spoke on behalf of the graduating class: Catriona Huber and Bryana Thompson.
Huber, an electrical engineering major, looked back at the pandemic and how Watson students, faculty and staff stepped up to help by creating ventilator parts, face shields, ultraviolet sterilization systems and more.
“The true nature of being an engineer isn’t just being ‘smart.’ It’s about learning whatever we can and using it to make real, visible, lasting change,” she said. “We are the people who are called upon to answer the new questions that are always being asked in our crazy, unstable world. And I know that as graduates of Binghamton University, we are up to the task.”
She recalled how she felt “scared” coming to Binghamton, but a teaching assistant offered her important words of encouragement in her first year at Watson: “She said, ‘You will be a good engineer.’ That’s it, but I think it might have changed my life. So I’m going to tell you the same thing, right now, with as much conviction as she said it to me: You will be a good engineer.”
While at Binghamton, Huber was a member of the Society of Women Engineers and a DJ at the campus radio station, WHRW, where she has hosted a show called Against the Wedge as DJ Fresh Squeeze. Starting in June, she will work at Nine-Mile Point Nuclear Generating Station in Oswego.
Thompson, a mechanical engineering major, talked about how she often found herself the only Black woman in her engineering classes, and how she overcame “imposter syndrome” through supportive peers.
“In classes where I faced the most challenges, I took that as an opportunity to push myself beyond comfortability,” Thompson said. “Those I’ve surrounded myself with are the people who have consistently pushed me to persevere.”
She added: “Engineering can be fun, but take it from me, it’ll make you question your decision a few times. Perhaps that’s why every semester we all debate switching to business!”
Thompson — whose activities outside the classroom included serving as the president of the National Society of Black Engineers, a member of Black Dance Repertoire and a resident assistant — will return to Binghamton in the fall to pursue her master’s degree as part of Watson College’s 4+1 program.
She gave a special shout-out to her parents, who were born and raised in Jamaica, and the support they’ve given to her along her educational journey.
“Being the first in my family to pursue an engineering degree, there was no one I could really look to for direct guidance, yet my parents always continuously supported me by cheering me on in all of my decisions and accomplishments,” she said.
Watson College’s PhD and master’s candidates graduated at separate ceremonies on Wednesday and Friday, respectively.