Three-hundred-and-nine students graduated from Washington & Jefferson College at its 213th Commencement ceremony Saturday.
Kevin Clash, the award-winning puppeteer who brought Elmo to life on Sesame Street; former Governor Christie Todd Whitman, who made history as the first woman to serve as Governor of New Jersey, holding office from 1994 until 2001; Rev. Preston Williams, a renowned theologian and scholar who served as Houghton Professor of Theology and Ethics at Harvard Divinity School for more than three decades; and John Swanson, an engineer, entrepreneur, philanthropist and founder of ANSYS, Inc., received honorary degrees.
Swanson delivered the keynote address.
“As you’ve heard, my bias is engineering and computer science. I am noted as a successful entrepreneur, but that merely means I got it right once,” Swanson said. “I will not go into the number of times I did not get it right. And take that as lesson, because there will be failures. Several failures. But there are lots of opportunities to learn from them, to correct them, and to get it right, hopefully even multiple times.”
W&J President Tori Haring-Smith, Ph.D., told graduates, “You will be sorely missed by those who have taught and guided you. You will leave a hole in our hearts. It is time for you to take the mission statement that guided while you were here and translate it into action.”
Clash’s dedication and hard work paid off when he became an official Sesame Street puppeteer in 1984 and made Elmo the international sensation that he is today. Although Elmo is Clash’s most prominent role, he has had many other roles, including Clifford and Hoots the Owl from Sesame Street, Baby Sinclair from the television show Dinosaurs, and Splinter from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. Clash was recently the subject of an award-winning documentary called, Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey, which chronicles Clash’s early years and his eventual rise to stardom as the voice and puppeteer of Elmo.
Governor Whitman served as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the cabinet of President George W. Bush from January of 2001 until June of 2003. In 2003, Whitman led the International Republican Institutes’ international delegation to observe the Cambodian presidential elections. She later co-chaired the Palestinian elections with President Jimmy Carter for the National Democratic Institute. Since leaving the EPA, she has served as President of The Whitman Strategy Group (WSG), a consulting firm that specializes in energy and environmental issues.
Reverend Williams, who retired in 2002, spent his entire ministry on college and university campuses. Prior to coming to the Harvard Divinity School, Reverend Williams was a professor at Boston University of Theology and chaplain at Brandeis University. He served as chaplain and instructor in religion at three historically black colleges: Knoxville College, North Carolina College at Durham, (North Carolina Central University) and Lincoln University.
Prior to founding ANSYS, Swanson was employed at the Westinghouse Astronuclear Laboratory in the stress analysis group. While there, he realized that companies could save time and money if they used finite-element software code to do the complex calculations that engineers were doing manually. The software is now an industry leader for assisting engineers and designers in optimizing product development processes in the aerospace, automotive, biomedical, manufacturing and electronics industries by simulating how products will function in real life. Opened in 2010, the John A. Swanson Science Center is the newest building on the W&J campus.
“This is a special class, one I am confident will continue our long tradition of graduating young men and women who make a difference in our world,” Haring-Smith added.