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06/15/2018 18:00:32

Caltech Celebrates the Class of 2018

Caltech celebrated its 124th annual commencement on Friday, June 15, 2018, as 579 students—227 earning bachelor's degrees, 161 earning master's degrees, and 191 earning PhD degrees—were recognized for their accomplishments before a cheering crowd of faculty, dignitaries, friends, and family.

The event was marked by smiles and celebration, awards and speeches, including U.S. Congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis's commencement address, which was bookended by standing ovations. In his address, Lewis spoke of the importance that each graduate "find a way to get in the way."

"I know each and every one of you are committed to science, to technology," he said. "I urge you also to study the way of peace. Study the way of love. Study the philosophy of nonviolence ... And help humanize that little planet, that little spaceship we call Earth."

Here are some images from Commencement 2018:

The regalia worn by graduates is informed by tradition but can also be idiosyncratic. For instance, in addition to their simple black gown and black mortarboard or cap, the Institute's undergraduates may choose to wear a colored stole to the ceremony. Orange stoles denote Caltech pride, while other colors may be chosen to represent the undergraduate's house affiliation:

  • Avery House: white stole or purple & white tassel
  • Blacker House: silver stole or a black & white tassel
  • Dabney House: green stole or tassel
  • Fleming House: red stole or tassel
  • Lloyd House: gold stole or a yellow & white tassel
  • Page House: blue stole or tassel
  • Ricketts House: maroon stole or tassel
  • Ruddock House: navy blue stole or tassel

David Lee (PhD '74), chair of the Caltech Board of Trustees, welcomed all those in attendance. "This past year, momentous for each of our graduates, has also been very remarkable for Caltech," he noted before sharing some of the Institute's most noteworthy accomplishments of the past academic year, including the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Physics to emeritus professors Kip Thorne (BS '62) and Barry Barish, together with MIT's Rainer Weiss.

Lee noted that Thorne had been his thesis advisor when he was a graduate student at Caltech. "Kip's relentless scientific curiosity and resolute commitment to excellence certainly enriched my own studies and—as we have seen—have forged an entirely new way to understand the universe," he said.

He added: "As you see, the work we accomplish together at Caltech resounds personally, professionally, and globally. And our graduates today are part of that astounding legacy."

Commencement speaker John Lewis talked about the importance of making "good trouble, necessary trouble."

"You must use every minute, every hour, and every day to make your mark on this world," he said, "to make it a little more peaceful, a little cleaner, and a little greener."

He added: "I want to take just one moment to thank each and every one of you for marching for science. We need science more now than ever before. ... You must help fight for the soul not just of our nation, but the soul of the planet. There are too many people being left out and left behind."

Caltech president Thomas F. Rosenbaum presented four prizes during the ceremony:

The Mabel Beckman Prize, awarded annually to female juniors or seniors, recognizes academic and personal excellence, contributions to the Institute community, and outstanding character and leadership. It was awarded to Roohi Dalal and Aishwarya Nene.

The Hinrichs Memorial Award recognizes the seniors who, in the opinion of the undergraduate deans, made the greatest contribution to the student body during their undergraduate years. The award was given to Stephanie Huard and Timothy Liu.

The George W. Housner Prize for Academic Excellence and Original Research is given to seniors who have demonstrated excellence in scholarship and in the preparation of an outstanding piece of original scientific research. This year's Housner Prize was presented to Matthew Weidner and Samuel Yee. Weidner was recognized for his research into error-correcting codes used in satellite and other types of communications to protect the integrity of the data. Yee was honored for two pieces of original research: a new algorithm to determine the properties of stars; and an analysis of observations of a star that led to his discovering a new, Jupiter-sized planet orbiting that star.

The recipients of the final award, the Milton and Francis Clauser Doctoral Prize, were not known until their names were announced at commencement. The Clauser Prize is awarded to students whose PhD thesis reflects "extraordinary standards of quality, innovative research, ingenuity, and especially the potential of opening new avenues of human thought and endeavor." This year's recipients were Gregory Donaldson and Ryan Monroe (pictured above). Donaldson's thesis, "Colonization of the Intestinal Surface by Indigenous Microbiota," said Rosenbaum, "overturned an established precept in immunology to reveal a process by which the immune system can help beneficial bacteria colonize in the gut." In Monroe's thesis, "Gigahertz Bandwidth and Nanosecond Timescales: New Frontiers in Radio Astronomy through Peak Performance Signal Processing," Monroe took on what Rosenbaum called "the seemingly impossible: the direct detection of cosmic rays at radio frequency."

At the end of the ceremony, Rosenbaum delivered his charge to the graduates, reminding them that, "you have been prepared to take full advantage of the opportunities ahead."

"You are fearless," he added. "You are ready to tackle any challenge with your quantitative skills but, even more importantly, to use those skills to find new directions through distillation of the underlying principles."

Invoking the Caltech Honor Code, he added, "No matter which direction your travels take, you will be prepared to find true North."

For more photos and videos of the day, visit Caltech's Commencement 2018 Flickr album.

Written by Lori Oliwenstein