Dressed in robes of yellow and crimson, over 1,500 students of IIT-Madras received their degrees during the 50th convocation of the institute on Friday.

Subra Suresh, president, Carnegie Mellon University, who was the chief guest at the event, and also recipient of the institute’s honorary doctorate, began his convocation address with an observation.

“It is ironical to tell students, all dressed alike, that individuality is the key to success, and I won’t do that,” he said, attracting much applause. Prof. Suresh spoke about his days at IIT-M, as a student pursuing mechanical engineering, and how the world had changed since.

“China, which was not a major economic force on the world stage in 1977, is now the second largest economy. There were no personal computers, mobile devices or the internet. The pace of change is only getting faster,” he said explaining how research and education were igniting innovation all over the world.

A distinguished engineer and scientist, Suresh served as director of the National Science Foundation for three years after being nominated by President Obama in 2010. Prior to that, Prof. Suresh served as the dean of engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Prof. Suresh urged the graduates to think beyond science and technology to accommodate arts, history, economics, literature and other disciplines, and to seek insights from outside their field. “Steve Jobs’ greatest talent was his eye for good design and the recognition that cool-looking and easy-to-use objects can improve quality of life,” he said.