Ted Kaufman - United States Senator for Delaware

Keynote Address at the University of Pennsylvania Engineering Commencement

May 17, 2010

Thank you for that wonderful introduction.  I am happy to be with you today as you celebrate this great achievement.

First, congratulations to the University of Pennsylvania School of Engineering and Applied Sciences Class of 2010!

I have been to a lot of commencements.  The best opening line is, to paraphrase former Presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson:

“For the next 8 minutes I am supposed to talk and you are supposed to listen.  I only hope we both begin and end at the same time.”  

Everything I know about young people today is that all of you want to “make a difference” with your lives.  

I am honored to be selected to tell you that with an engineering degree you can make a difference.

Like you, I graduated from college during an economic recession.  It was hard to find a good job.  

Others no doubt have faced much greater hardships than me, but those early years left me always a bit more grateful and appreciative of everything I have had in my life.  

At the same time, when I graduated, the country was investing heavily in the science and engineering fields.  

It was the Space Race: the age of Sputnik and President Kennedy’s call to land a man on the moon.  

Science and engineering were the “it” fields of that time.

Today, again we find our economy at a turning point where engineers are called upon to meet a challenge.  

Scientists and engineers have the most dynamic and creative minds, though I admit that I’m biased.  
America needs creative ideas and energy – and if you have them, you will get your shot.  

Don’t be shy, our country needs you.  

As we continue our recovery, we are seeing more and more investment in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics − or STEM.  

The days of big booms in housing, consumer products, and finance are over.  

The degree you earn here today will make you stand out in the workforce.  

You will develop the innovative technologies that will help our economy recover and promote real job growth.

Businesses and organizations are willing now more than ever to listen to new voices with innovative ideas and out-of-the box thinking.  

Whether it is energy independence, climate change, global health, homeland security, or challenges in transportation, STEM-educated graduates will be at the forefront of the most important issues of our time.

The National Academy of Engineering has identified fourteen “Grand Challenges” for engineering, including:

providing energy from fusion,

advancing health informatics,

engineering better medicines,

securing cyberspace,

enhancing virtual reality, and

engineering the tools of scientific discovery.

These grand challenges all await engineering solutions, and we are counting on your help to lead this effort.

Thanks to Dean Glandt, the faculty, and the school’s partners, you are the beneficiaries of a great education.  

The Penn Engineering community is not just doing great work; it is breaking new ground that could change the world, by:

creating novel polymers for fuel cells in hybrid cars,  

inventing cloaking devices that can shield objects from infrared and radar detection,

developing a way to allow patients to regrow damaged cartilage on their own,

improving medical imaging,

healing patients through robotics, and more.

So I am excited to look out at the faces of those who will be tackling these twenty-first century challenges.  

As a fellow engineer, the most important piece of advice I can give you is to consider using what you have learned here to pursue a career in public service.

Throughout my life, I have worked in both the private and public sectors.  

The one thing I can say about the years I spent in public service is that I never went home at night wondering if I was doing something meaningful with my life.

In this time of great challenges, we need talented men and women like you to answer the call to serve.  

I hope you will consider taking a few years to explore opportunities in government, non-profits, and other organizations that serve the public good.

There are many jobs in these areas that are waiting to be filled by smart, hard-working, and dedicated young engineers like you.

Engineers in public service work in laboratories to create new energy technologies.  
They invent new medicines and cures for diseases.  

They design the protective armor worn by our soldiers overseas.  

They devise secure computer programs to protect against cyber threats.  

They plan the infrastructure that stretches from coast to coast, and they even carry us into space.
This is Penn, so I have to use a Ben Franklin quote.

He said:  “Who is rich?  He that is content.”

You know that careers in government often pay less than the private sector, and that you won’t always make the most money.

Your bonus will be the knowledge that you have answered the call to duty; that your life has surely served a meaningful purpose.

You can feel content in your contribution and, thus, rich from your service.

I can say from personal experience, when those who dedicate their lives to public service retire, you can look back on your career and know, with certainty, that when your country needed you, you gave of yourself.  

You will know that your contribution has been genuine and significant.

Whatever you do, I know that Penn Engineering has provided you with the best skills to serve your community, set out on a meaningful course, and help make America prosper.

One of my favorite metaphors comes from sailing.

Whether you sail or not, you know that you can construct the perfect sailboat, and you can outfit it with the very best sails, fill it with the greatest crew, but, if the wind isn’t blowing, you are not going anywhere.

Right now, engineering is that sailboat.  

The wind is at your back.

Our country needs you to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century.  

This is your moment.  

Congratulations and good luck!

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