Order of the Engineer
by Marcia Goodrich
It's December 2009, not the easiest time to be a brand-new college graduate. Jobs are not falling into everyone's lap, and many of the mechanical engineering seniors at this banquet are edgy as cats. But as the Order of the Engineer ceremony unfolds, they are reminded that the pendulum will swing back. Times will again be good, companies will hire. And when they do, these young men and women will face ethical challenges quite different from the intellectual ones posed by Senior Design and Differential Equations.
William Predebon, chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering–Engineering Mechanics, emcees the Order of the Engineer ceremony twice a year, the week before the Midyear and Spring Commencement ceremonies. It is a salute to mechanical engineering graduates as they prepare for life after Michigan Tech. "It's been a lot of work, long hours, sleepless nights," Predebon tells the dozens of students gathered. "Our purpose is to congratulate you on completing your first milestone."
It's also an opportunity to remind them that, of all the paths ahead, the easiest may not be the best. Predebon has been conducting the Order of the Engineer ceremony since he became department chair thirteen years ago. "When I was inducted, the ceremony reminded me that what we do is in the service of humankind, and what's really important is doing the right thing, even when it's tempting to do something else," he says.
It's hard to imagine any of these new graduates yielding to temptation. They have each worked so hard to earn a seat at these tables, they are so eager to get on with their lives, and the compromises of the working world seem far away.
"I can't even put into words how excited I am," says Patrick Green, of Brighton. "I'm very ready to be done and start working. This has been my hardest semester at Tech." Nevertheless, it seems to have been worth it. "I'm pretty pleased about my education," says Green. "I've learned to appreciate the difference between a technological university and a university that just has an engineering school."
Guest speaker Gary Lawrey '79, president and chief operating officer of Saturn Electronics and Engineering, reassures the graduates. Jobs have been scarce, even for engineers, but as the economy recovers and baby boomers retire, companies will scramble to fill engineering positions, he predicts. "So, while getting a job today may take a little more work and patience, your long-term prospects are very bright," Lawrey assures them.
"You have a fine education from a top-notch school, and that education will always serve you well—no matter what career path you follow," he says. "To me, a career is a journey with many bends in the road: you know where you're heading, but you're never quite sure what's over the next horizon or even around the next corner."
He offers rules for success that he's picked up since earning his own BS in Mechanical Engineering thirty years earlier. Among them is the importance of integrity. "Leaders place integrity at the heart of their relationships," he says. "People will forget and forgive any judgment error that you make, but integrity mistakes are forever."
In closing, the graduates recite the Obligation of an Engineer, honoring the heritage of progress made possible by generations of engineers and promising to participate "in none but honest enterprises." Then each extends a hand through a large ring, where a small steel ring is placed on their finger.
For new graduate Nathan Klein, that was the pinch-me moment.
"I knew the dedication, hard work, and late nights would all pay off sometime," he says, "and that time was at this ceremony."
Since graduating in December, both Nathan Klein and Patrick Green have found employment in their fields. Says Green, "I really couldn't be happier."