TROY, N.Y. — MTSU alumnus (B.S. ’71) and former Tennessee Congressman Bart Gordon received an honorary degree and served as commencement speaker May 26 at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, the nation’s oldest technological university.
Currently a partner in K&L Gates law firm in Washington, D.C., Gordon joined U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and a group of dignitaries and pioneers recognized by Rensselaer at its 2012 commencement. Rensselaer honored leaders from each branch of the U.S. government, along with pioneers in the business and academic sectors, at its 206th graduation ceremonies.
Gordon, a Murfreesboro native, served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 26 years before retiring in 2010. He was former chairman of the House Committee on Science and Technology and, according to Rensselaer, is “a leader in U.S. science, technology, energy, and health policy, and champion of the America COMPETES Act, which authorizes federal investments in innovation and innovators.”
During his address, Gordon urged students to step up to the challenges of the 21st century, using as an example America’s successful technological race to the moon in 1969 in response to the Soviet launch of the Sputnik satellite more than a decade earlier.
Gordon recalled that, as a child, he searched the night sky for Sputnik because its launch had “shocked me, my family, and Americans everywhere.”
He said that President John F. Kennedy’s response to the threat to American national security and economic security was the challenge that, 12 years later, led Americans to the Apollo 11 lunar landing and astronaut Neil Armstrong’s historic steps on the surface of the moon.
“I tell you that because America and the whole planet are in desperate need of another Sputnik-to-Apollo kind of step forward,” Gordon said. Meeting the energy and other critical needs of a global population that now stands at seven billion people and rising is “the Sputnik challenge of today,” he added.
“On your graduation day, we are at a point in human history where we need a leap forward in innovation and technology, because the failure to meet the needs and desires of those 10 billion people will put free economies, political systems and the well-being of this planet at risk.”
As chairman of the House Committee on Science and Technology and a senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Gordon built bipartisan support for enactment of the America COMPETES Act, helped craft the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act and was a leading proponent of America’s space program, and of enhancing science, technology, engineering, and math education.
Other Rensselaer honorary degree recipients included Chu, distinguished scientist and 1997 co-recipient of the Nobel Prize for Physics; Scalia, the longest sitting member of the U.S. Supreme Court; artificial-intelligence pioneer and computer scientist Dr. Edward A. Feigenbaum; and digital-camera inventor and Rensselaer alumnus Steven J. Sasson.
“For a boy from Murfreesboro, it’s pretty high cotton to be in there,” Gordon said.
On May 25, Rensselaer conducted its 10th annual President’s Commencement Colloquy. The honorees participated in a discussion on “Honoring Tradition, Responding to a Changing World” moderated by Rensseelaer President Shirley Ann Jackson.
For the full text of Gordon’s address and video excerpts from the Colloquy, visit www.rpi.edu/colloquy/2012/gordon.html.
— Jimmy Hart (Jimmy.Hart@mtsu.edu) and Mary L. Martialay (firstname.lastname@example.org)