It can be hard for graduating students to leave the University because it is a source of personal growth, but a Princeton education prepares students for lifelong learning and unforeseeable opportunities, University President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 said at Princeton’s 267th Commencement on Tuesday, the third and final day of graduation exercises.
Woodrow Wilson, Class of 1879, was an example of someone who struggled to adjust immediately after graduation but ultimately “lived a life of leadership, service and consequence,” Eisgruber said.
“Your path beyond Princeton, like Tommy Wilson’s path, is likely to take many twists and turns,” Eisgruber said, referring to Woodrow Wilson by the name by which he was known on campus. “It may take you some time to find the right place, and that’s OK. You have emerged from this University with a liberal arts degree that prepares you for the long term, that prepares you to adapt and to confront challenges and seize opportunities that you may not now be able even to imagine.”
The value of a Princeton education is unlikely to be eroded by massive open online courses, because personal relationships are at the heart of teaching, Eisgruber said. Despite the cost of investing in such relationships, it is the best one a society can make, he added.
“Think now about the teachers who have mattered most in your lives,” Eisgruber said. “I’ll wager this: they mattered in your lives not because they were famous, not in other words because everyone knew them, but because they took the time to know you.”
Valedictorian Katherine Pogrebniak ’14, a native of Jacksonville, Fla., talked about her experiences as a computer science concentrator.
“When I came to Princeton, I wish I could say I had one of those epiphany experiences when Steve Jobs comes down from heaven and points me to the computer science building, but alas it did not happen that way,” Pogrebniak said. “In the end, I took a risk and I am glad I did … Not only have I enjoyed the challenge, but I also believe that computers will be critical in solving a wide array of problems faced by society, whether curing diseases such as cancer, bringing education to developing nations or helping you Gchat with your friend who is 10 feet away.”
She also connected her personal experiences at the University with the broader themes of a Princeton education.
“While we have had to make some important choices over the past few years, we will have many, probably even more challenging decisions once we walk out those gates,” she said. “We can’t be afraid to take a risk and to reach for the unknown but rewarding choice. Our own President Eisgruber majored in physics here as an undergraduate and now specializes in constitutional law.”
Salutatorian Alexander Iriza ’14 of Astoria, N.Y., read his address in Latin, as is customary for the salutatorian.
“We have shared many experiences over these past four years, from fires celebrating our victories in the battles of the game of feet, to an inflammation of the meninges from which we were saved by gifts born across the sea,” an English translation provided by the University read in part. “But most of all we will remember the bonds we have made with each other. And though our time here as students has come to a close, we will reunite year after year as a retinue of maenads and satyrs.”
Five people were also awarded honorary degrees from the University at the ceremony. Citations were read by Louise Sams ’79, University Orator and trustee, and Eisgruber conferred the degrees upon their recipients.
Former and first female Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was awarded a Doctor of Laws degree. Her citation said the intervention in Kosovo which she helped to plan “saved millions of people from exile and ethnic planning.”
Fazle Hasan Abed, the founder of BRAC, the world’s largest nongovernment development organization, was also awarded a Doctor of Laws degree.
Herb Kelleher, founder of Southwest Airlines, received a Doctor of Laws degree for “choosing to cut costs but not to jettison jobs” when the airline industry “hit turbulence.”
James McPherson, whose citation described him as the “premier historian of the American Civil War,” was awarded a Doctor of Humane Letters degree.
James West, an inventor and former Bell Laboratories employee, was awarded a Doctor of Science degree for having “revolutionized the telephone and recording industries.”
Recipients of the President’s Awards for Distinguished Teaching were English professor Simon Gikandi, electrical engineering professor Claire Gmachl, history professor Anthony Grafton and Robert Sandberg ’70, lecturer in English, theater and the Lewis Center for the Arts.
Gikandi is a scholar of postcolonial Anglophone literature, with a focus on Africa, India and the Caribbean. Gmachl is a specialist in optics, photonics and lasers, who has created lasers with environmental and medical applications. Grafton is a scholar of Renaissance Europe and the history of science. Sandberg has been teaching playwriting, acting and dramatic literature at the University since 1995.
The Princeton University chapter of Phi Beta Kappa gave its annual awards for undergraduate teaching to molecular biology professor and chair of the department Bonnie Bassler, as well as to mathematics professor Peter Sarnak.
Bassler researches communication mechanisms in bacteria and develops molecules that could potentially be used as antimicrobial drugs. Sernak’s work focuses on analysis and number theory.
The University also recognized four New Jersey secondary school teachers for excellence in teaching.
The recipients were Christa Cordes of East Side High School in Newark, Luke De of The Pingry School in Basking Ridge, Daniel Foerg-Spittel of Tenafly Middle School and Lily Lee of Northern Valley Regional High School in Old Tappan.
Commencement took place at 11 a.m. on Tuesday in front of Nassau Hall. After the ceremony, which was the last event for the graduates, the Class of 2014 walked through FitzRandolph Gate.