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Grandin tells graduates: Make a difference with ‘real projects’

Dr. Temple Grandin, an autism awareness advocate and professor of animal science, encouraged Providence College’s Class of 2014 to go out into the world and find out how it works.

“Get out there and do some real projects. Get some real stuff done, not abstract stuff,” Grandin said.

Grandin received a standing ovation after her Commencement Address at Providence College’s Ninety-Sixth Commencement Exercises on Sunday, May 18, at the Dunkin' Donuts Center.

In all, the College awarded 1,257 degrees to members of the Class of 2014, including 962 undergraduate day school students. Degrees also were awarded to 221 graduate program students, 69 bachelor’s and associate’s recipients in the School of Continuing Education (SCE), and five honorary degree recipients.

The College has examined disability issues this academic year through a series of programs and events that began with the Freshman Common Reading Program book selection, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (Doubleday, 2003).

Grandin is a “photorealistic visual thinker” and didn’t realize while growing up that everybody didn’t “think in pictures,” she said in her address.

“What I want to get you to do is think about the different ways people think,” Grandin said. “When I was young, I used to think everyone used to think in pictures like me.”

At one end of the autism spectrum, you have Albert Einstein, who had no speech until age 3 — and threw a lot of temper tantrums, too, she said. If he had been born today, “how many drugs would they be putting him on?” she asked. She noted she didn’t start speaking until age 4.

At the other end, “a little bit of an autism trait gives you everybody in Silicon Valley,” said Grandin, who is a professor at Colorado State University.

Her concern is that the world is growing less tolerant of people who think differently, like late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. He was the artist who designed the iPhone interface and who needed engineers to make it work. He was also “a weird loner who brought snakes to school and turned them loose.”

Grandin said that restricting yourself to one type of thinking results in problems such as the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster, where the mathematical minds who designed it didn’t see it was a bad idea to put all the emergency equipment in a non-waterproof basement.

“I worry that my kind of mind is going to get screened out,” Grandin said.

There is too much emphasis today on educational deficits and not enough about strengths, she added. “The whole electric grid would probably fall down if they didn't have dyslexics who fix the wires when they break,” Grandin said.

She was also concerned that technology allows people to get into “silos.” “The Internet magnifies the voices of radicals,” Grandin said. Students need to read more than just what interests them, she said.

Her 20 years in the construction industry affects the way she works, Grandin said. Her research focuses on reducing stress experienced by grazing animals at meat processing plants. Grandin’s livestock handling facility designs have been applied around the world, and her insights on animal behavior, such as the flight zone — the distance around an animal that, if encroached, will cause alarm — has influenced animal husbandry practices. Major corporations adopted an objective scoring system Grandin created to evaluate how animals are handled at meat plants.

When you build things in construction, “you have to start projects. Finish them. Get them done. Make them work,” she said.

The best and brightest in engineering shouldn’t be working on making a fiber optic cable to game the stock market, she said. “They need to be working on something cool, like the warp core, like on Star Trek,” Grandin said.

Alumnus, Dominican presented honorary degrees

Grandin, who received a doctor of science degree, was one of five individuals awarded honorary degrees during Commencement Exercises. Also honored were:

  • Hon. Francis J. Darigan ‘64, retired associate justice of the Superior Court of Rhode Island, doctor of laws;
  • Raymond M. Murphy, entrepreneur and philanthropist, bachelor of arts;
  • Sister Margaret Ormond, O.P., prioress of the Congregation of the Dominican Sisters of Peace, doctor of religious education; and
  • Carolyn Rafaelian, creator, designer, and interim CEO of Alex and Ani, doctor of humanities.

In and out of the classroom, the Class of 2014 distinguished itself in many regards. More than a quarter of the 962 day school undergraduates graduated with honors. Forty-four achieved summa cum laude honors, 97 earned magna cum laude honors, and 86 attained cum laude recognition, for a total of 227.

A total of 365 day school undergraduates were named to honor societies, while 30 graduate students and 16 SCE students qualified for honor societies.

Business disciplines continue to be the most popular areas of study among recent graduates. Among day school undergraduates in the Class of 2014, marketing is the top major, followed by biology, finance, accounting, and psychology. 

A total of 259 day school undergraduates in the class studied abroad, while 74% participated in internships. Three hundred and ninety-nine class members engaged in student government and/or leadership positions in such areas as New Student Orientation, clubs and organizations, Admission Ambassadors, academic tutoring, and College standing committees.

Meanwhile, there is a strong legacy connection in the Class of 2014. Eighty-two of the day school undergraduates share a legacy with at least one parent a graduate of the College, and 24 graduates have both parents in the PC alumni ranks. 

Four speakers, including three from the College, brought greetings to the Class of 2013 at the outset of Commencement Exercises. College President Rev. Brian J. Shanley, O.P. ’80 opened the remarks, followed by Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, Colleen Cronin Duffy ’83, president of the PC National Alumni Association Board of Governors, and Mark W. Caprio ’14 (Hope, R.I.), senior class president.  

Commencement Exercises concluded a three-day celebration of the Class of 2014. Commencement Weekend began on Friday, May 16, with the ROTC Commissioning, during which 16 students were commissioned as second lieutenants in the U.S. Army. Three of the commissionees are PC graduates: Samuel Butler ’14 (Biddeford, Maine), Nicholas Marfongelli ’14 (Salem, Mass.), and Danielle McDermott ’14 (Highland Falls, N.Y.).

Weekend programming continued on Saturday, May 17, with the Academic Awards Ceremony and the Commencement Mass, followed by a reception for families.


— Charles C. Joyce and Liz F. Kay

Read more about Commencement 2014
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Valedictorians Katerina Protsenko '14, Laura Wells '14 say coming to PC was the best decision they ever made.

PC’s 96th Commencement
Dr. Temple Grandin, an animal scientist and autism activist, will present the Commencement Address on May 18.

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Father Shanley tells graduates: "The way lies open before you."

Catholic and Dominican

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About Providence College's Catholic and Dominican Identity