On Friday, June 10, 2022, Caltech held its 128th Commencement with a ceremony on campus, marking the first in-person Commencement since 2019, allowing hundreds of graduates to process in front of a crowd of cheering friends and family on Beckman Mall. The Institute honored graduates with 560 degrees: 218 bachelor's degrees, 139 master's degrees, and 203 doctoral degrees.
Dave Thompson (MS '78), chair of the Caltech Board of Trustees, opened the ceremony by welcoming the graduates and their families and friends, and acknowledging a number of special guests, including two of Caltech's 2022 Distinguished Alumni Award recipients, Sudhir Kumar Jain (MS '80, PhD '83) and Bette Korber (PhD '88). Thompson then highlighted another year of innovation at Caltech, mentioning discoveries that ranged from the development of methods to coax jellyfish, fruit flies, and mice to regenerate body parts to the first picture of the supermassive black hole in the heart of our Milky Way. He noted the conclusion of the Break Through campaign, which was supported by donations from more than 14,500 individuals and raised a total of $3.4 billion.
"You are also now being welcomed into the ranks of Caltech graduates over 25,000 strong, who will continue as your predecessors have for more than a century to make the world a better place," Thompson said. "As a result of your hard work, each of you is now well prepared to capture new opportunities that address the new challenges that are ahead."
He continued, "As a former student myself who began my studies at Caltech in 1976 assisting with NASA's Viking Mission, which landed the first spacecraft on Mars, I know how valuable a Caltech degree has been to my career and to my life. Congratulations, fellow alumni. May you look back on your Caltech memories and cherish them as fondly as I cherish mine."
Thompson then introduced the 2022 commencement speaker, Jad Abumrad, creator and former co-host of the science and technology-inspired public radio podcast Radiolab as well as More Perfect and Dolly Parton's America.
"You all are about to graduate from one of the top colleges in the country. You've already weathered a singularly difficult moment in history," Abumrad said. "What could I possibly say to you as you stand on the brink that resembles wisdom? And then I thought, perhaps that's the point. There's a void out there. Looming. For all of you. That void is called tomorrow."
Abumrad then relayed the story of the monarch butterflies that pass through California on their migration from Canada to Mexico. Their journey is so long that it requires three or four generations to complete, he noted, meaning that the grandchildren or great-grandchildren of the original monarchs are the ones who reach the destination.
"And the thing is, you might not be the first butterfly," he said. "You won't know it, but you might be the third. Or more likely the three hundredth, taking the work or the knowledge or the discovery of those that came before you. And in your lifetime, you are going to move it forward in ways no one can imagine. And you're not going to get all the way. And that's OK. Because without your effort, humanity is never going to get there."
Following the conferral of degrees, Caltech president Thomas F. Rosenbaum presented four prizes to members of the graduating class:
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 Isabel Swafford and Saehui Hwang.
"A commitment to equity and inclusion characterizes Isabel's leadership at Caltech," Rosenbaum said of Swafford. "In addition to serving as co-president of the Caltech Sexual Assault and Gender Equity Student Council, she undertook training to work as an Equity & Title IX student advocate, offering fellow students support, education, and a sense of community." Of Hwang, he said, "Saehui has said that it was the COVID-19 pandemic that first inspired her leadership as she strove to maintain a sense of connection among students and the broader world, even during a period of physical separation. Working with the Caltech Y, she helped produce the first edition of the Caltech Covid Cookbook and went on to host virtual baking and chess workshops."
The Frederic W. Hinrichs, Jr., Memorial Award recognizes the senior 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 Ayooluwa Odemuyiwa. "Throughout her time at Caltech, Ayooluwa made mental health and the student experience focal areas of her leadership," Rosenbaum said. "Serving as president and social director of ASCIT, and as social vice president of Ricketts House, she worked to uplift her fellow students during the pandemic through virtual events and programs that included midnight donuts, concerts, and mentoring. More recently, she helped manage return-to-campus efforts, meeting with administrators and student leaders to help streamline testing procedures and strengthen communications."
The George W. Housner Prize for Academic Excellence and Original Research is given to seniors who have demonstrated excellence in scholarship and the preparation of an outstanding piece of original scientific research. This year's Housner Prize was presented to Tianyi Zhang. "Starting on his arrival at Caltech in 2018, Tianyi initiated independent research projects in organic synthesis, computational chemistry, and catalysis, including the development of efficient methods to selectively catalyze asymmetric compounds," Rosenbaum said. "To date, his work has resulted in five research manuscripts, including three on which he is the first author or co-first author."
The recipient of the final award, the Milton and Francis Clauser Doctoral Prize, was first announced at the commencement ceremony, as is the tradition with this prize. The Clauser Prize is awarded to a student or students whose PhD theses reflect extraordinary standards of quality, innovative research, and the potential of opening new avenues of human thought and endeavor. This year's Clauser Prize was awarded to Magnus Hoffmann for his thesis in biology, titled "Nanoparticle Technologies to Cure and Prevent Infectious Diseases." Rosenbaum noted that Hoffman's work has led to a technique to create custom self-assembling EBR nanoparticles that display surface antigens of viruses such as SARS-CoV-2 and HIV. "Magnus's adviser, Professor Pamela Björkman, anticipates that EBR nanoparticle technology could become one of the leading innovations in the vaccine field since it allows for a hybrid approach that offers the advantages of both mRNA and protein nanoparticle vaccines," Rosenbaum said.
In his charge to the graduates, which closed the event, Rosenbaum reminded the graduates to look forward. "The Caltech experience, intense and daunting as it is, provides a certain safety and comfort within the embrace of a tight-knit community," he said. "But the world beckons. You will be entering into experiences that are rare in the pleasures they can provide and astounding in their potential. And you have been prepared to take full advantage of the opportunities ahead."