Magistrale 2015: gloriously eclectic!
At what event are more than 900 students joined by math-loving biologists, businessmen passionate about lake sciences and Swiss engineers at the pinnacle of Silicon Valley – with a musical backdrop of French comic opera and Irish rock? Why, Magistrale at EPFL of course.
“We can provide you with this springboard to the future because Switzerland has always remained open to outside ideas and people.” Patrick Aebischer spoke these words to the 939 new EPFL graduates and their families attending the 2015 graduation ceremony, the Magistrale. It was standing room only at the Swiss Tech Convention Center for EPFL’s headline event, which celebrates students, instructors and honorary doctorate awardees.
Bizet's Carmen at the Magistrale
The ceremony was punctuated by musical interludes masterfully executed by the Orchestre romand des jeunes professionnels. The new grads, emerging from years of rigor and isolation for which EPFL is known, were greeted by Bizet’s Carmen and her playful musings, because «l’amour est enfant de bohème et qu’il n’a jamais (jamais) connu de loi.» (Love is but a gypsy child who has never (ever) known the law.)
Three honorary doctorates were awarded at the 2015 graduation ceremony. Mathematician and computer scientist Bonnie Berger received the first one. Over 20 years ago, this MIT professor sought out the most interesting and thorniest problems on which to test the algorithms that she developed. She then made her name in the life sciences where she studied protein folding, emerging as a pioneer in the early days of computational biology.
Microbiologist Margaret McFall-Ngai, a professor at the University of Hawaii, was the second recipient. This researcher works at the forefront of immunology and marine biology. She is one of the first researchers to attempt to grasp the symbiotic relationship between animals and bacteria. The study of microbiome is now among the most promising and exciting areas of research, thanks largely to her innovative work.
Margaret McFall-Ngai, EPFL's honorary doctor
The third honorary doctorate was awarded to Frederik Paulsen. The CEO of Ferring Pharmaceutical, based in Saint-Prex, has supported EPFL’s research in the area of limnology (the study of lake ecosystems) over the past few years. He sponsors a chair at EPFL in this field and financed ambitious research programs in Lake Baikal and Lake Geneva involving Swiss, Russian and French scientists.
The EPFL president awarded special prizes to graduates who stood out for a particular reason. These students boasted an amazing average:
- 1st prize: Florian Tramèr (Master's in computer science)
- 2nd prize: Simon Löwe Kolja Mathes and Vionnet Grégoire (Master’s in physics)
- 3rd prize: Moritz Schmidlin (Master’s in microengineering)
With a 5.92 average, Moritz Schmidlin receives the 3rd prize
The youngest graduate Award went to Cédric Marc Vivien, who received his Physics Master at 20 years old. The merit award went to Tony Mercuri, with a Master’s in physics, who began his studies at 33 years old after a cook carreer. The sports prize was awarded to Sarah Van Rooij, student in mechanical engineering who plays on the Swiss National Volleyball Team.
The Polysphère awards are given to the best instructors, who are selected by the students themselves. The highest distinction – the “Gold Polysphère” – went to Jacques Thévenaz, professor of mathematics. The following instructors in other fields were also recognized:
- Rüdiger Fahlenbrach (College of Management and Technology)
- Jacques Lucan (School of Architecture, Civil and Environmental Engineering)
- Rüdiger Urbanke (School of Computer and Communication Sciences)
- Jean-Luc Desbiolles (School of Engineering)
- Melanie Blokesch (School of Life Sciences)
The next part of the graduation ceremony is the Alumni Awards, which recognize past EPFL graduates.
Yves Paternot won the Award for the extraordinary path he has followed, going from the halls of the EPFL to those of the Harvard Business School and then, more recently, to the top of the ISREC Foundation (the Swiss Institute for Experimental Cancer Research). He is also known as the former CEO of Adia, the staffing agency that merged with a French company to become Adecco, the world leader in the sector.
Camille Vial received an Alumni Award for her career at Mirabaud private bank in Geneva. She was the first woman to make partner at this nearly 200-year-old institution. She holds a Master’s in mathematics from EPFL.
Igor Perisic was the final winner of an Alumni Award. He has several things in common with the first two winners: like the first one, he went from EPFL to Harvard; like the second one, he holds a degree in math. But he is really known for being the VP of engineering at LinkedIn. He is also on the Advisory Board of Swissnex San Francisco, where his experience and contacts help build bridges between Switzerland and North America.
EPFL’s 2015 Graduation Day closed with a choral version of U2’s Beautiful Day. Quite a stretch, from Bizet to Bono, for the sake of openness and diversity.