Class of 2022 valedictorian Benjamin Gersten standing outdoors with the ocean in the background

Benjamin Gersten ’22

Major: Mechanical engineering

Co-curriculars: American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), Tau Beta Pi, Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization (CEO), Engineering Peer Mentor, Rock Climbing, Student Grader

Post-graduation plans: Pursuing a technical position in engineering, either in consumer products or broader tech industries; hopes to eventually advance to a program manager position

Describe your senior year in three words.

Packed. Between managing four classes filled with technical and creative design projects, and two clubs in need of more directed leadership and restructuring—all while maintaining and growing my social relationships and experiences—proved extremely tiring. If I wasn’t working, I was out trying to make memories with friends, cooking, or learning new skills.

Educational. Besides all the technical skills I learned from my classes and clubs, I learned a lot about how to determine which relationships are valuable and which only drag me down. I also learned how to push myself out of my comfort zone and pursue new relationships headfirst despite my introverted nature.

Thought-provoking. I spent a lot of time in self-reflection. Many experiences of my prior three years, combined with those of this senior year, led me to reconsider my priorities and think on what responsibilities I have to myself and others, the lessons to be learned from past mistakes, my goals for the future, and the needs I need to accommodate.

What does being valedictorian mean to you?

It is a testament to my grit and determination to achieve my goals. Though the struggle for self-confidence has always been an uphill battle for me, my completion of various academic feats has shown me that I can work through future challenges, even under great pressure.

What’s your favorite Lafayette memory?

Fully embracing the idea of ‘Better late than never,’ my favorite memories would have to be two made during Senior Week. One night, I had five of my friends in my apartment, where we all made 100 dumplings and two loaves of focaccia bread. We made jokes, reminisced about old memories, laughed, and had a great time while bonding over food and drink. In the other memory, I was invited to go rafting/kayaking on the river with a large portion of the upperclassmen from the Delta Tau Delta frat. Though I wasn’t close with everyone, I felt super welcomed and thoroughly enjoyed the rambunctious nature of the guys, the tranquility of the river, and the gentle wind blowing through the valley.

What’s the most impactful class you took?

Nature of Materials with Prof. James Schaffer. As a course that blends technical and conceptual topics with a practical focus, I learned that I thrive best when solving abstract problems in the bigger picture and when leveraging my eye for details to ensure a thorough analysis of the situation. Prof. Schaffer helped me realize that although there may be many answers to a problem, many can be sorted by relevance, likelihood, and priority.

Who was the most influential person during your time at the College?

It’s a close call, but I would like to give this shoutout to my adviser, Prof. Amy Van Asselt. Though many of our interactions were brief and far between, she helped me at a critical moment during my senior fall when my convictions in my abilities and future as an engineer were at their weakest. She has always been a steadfast anchor that I knew I could rely upon if I had questions—academic, professional, or more generally in life. Having her as that kind of support, even if I didn’t need it as visibly, helped more than I can probably imagine in my endeavors to push myself beyond my limits. Her empathy, promptness, and positive nature are invaluable; having her as my Heat Transfer professor also helped make that senior fall all the more manageable. I also am infinitely grateful that she would always entertain my more nuanced questions about technical material, despite how they would sometimes fall outside of the scope of the course.

What will you miss most about Laf?

I will miss the friendships I made along the way. Though I found my welcoming micro-community late in my college experience, in part due to COVID, their support and the experiences we have shared are invaluable to me. We live in separate corners of the world, and having been to boarding school before, I know how difficult it is to maintain long-distance relationships. However, some bonds are eternal, not requiring constant contact or interaction. I am optimistic and eager to cross paths with my dear friends again in the future, near or distant.

Describe your biggest challenge and how you overcame it.

Figuring out how to achieve a healthy work-life balance has been my greatest challenge, such that I still struggle with it. Many of the mistakes I have made and the regrets I have can be traced back to me focusing too much on academic metrics with often great sacrifice to my personal health and my relationships with those around me. I have improved my ability to balance by learning how to better delegate tasks in my projects or leadership roles, prioritizing things that matter the most in the bigger picture, and reaching out more for help from others when I need it.

What do you wish for your fellow graduating classmates?

Choose the hard right over the easy wrong, and take a moment to consider all perspectives—regardless of how foreign or caustic they may appear. In a world with increasing division and growing challenges to civilization as a whole, we are in need of those who can work with integrity to forge new alliances and restore the bonds between all of our communities.

What advice would you give to your first-year self?

Focus less on the numerical metrics of your academic achievement, and instead prioritize discovering and building healthy, positive relationships with the myriad peers around you. Making an effort to pursue and savor experiences rather than chasing ‘optimal’ results of standardized evaluations will yield a more memorable and enjoyable lifestyle.

What words of wisdom would you like to share with upcoming seniors?

Savor your final year at college, and focus on your relationships. You will remember the experiences shared with your friends; the specific facts or numbers you learn in textbooks and classes will be soon forgotten. Build up your professional future too if you have the time.

How has Lafayette changed you?

Lafayette has changed me in two major ways. Firstly, I’ve become better at putting myself into new social situations. Challenging my introverted nature has led to me making friendships I do not think I would have been able to achieve in the past. Secondly, Lafayette has taught me that everyone has their limits. To push yourself and others beyond them is not without consequences. I have learned to be more considerate of these in working and growing with others.

How do you hope to change the world?

I hope to use my multifaceted perspective and adaptive problem-solving skills to design new solutions in the tech industry. I also hope to use my accumulated first- and second-hand experience and knowledge to mentor others so they do not need to make the same mistakes or burden themselves as greatly with the same challenges.

The most important thing you learned about yourself at Lafayette is:

I’m more flexible than I realized, and I can change my skill set to meet a variety of scenarios. Having achieved valedictorian, I believe that if my mindset is right, I can overcome almost any challenge by sheer force of will alone. I’m extremely goal-driven; if I can set the right goals for myself and properly motivate myself for them in a sustainable fashion, I can achieve anything.

Commencement Highlights

Lafayette College's 187th Commencement ceremony Saturday, May 21

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Categorized in: Academic News, Class of 2022, Commencement 2022, Mechanical Engineering, News and Features, Student Profiles, Students