Top Hat

Grand Marshal Cait Bennett's insights on the new president of Rensselaer

Grand Marshal Cait Bennett's investiture speech

By Cait Bennett October 12, 2022

Do you want to know the number one question I get asked these days? “Is Marty really that cool?”

It’s an honest question because everyone can feel the energy around campus. While it’s hard not to be impressed with his credentials, students, faculty, and alumni are more curious about Marty’s character. As the Grand Marshal, or student body president, I had the unique opportunity to get to know Marty first as a candidate and later as a president. Here’s why Marty really is that cool: he is humble, he is authentic, and he is a man of action.

Socrates once said, “true knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing.” Simply put, humble leaders must be willing to learn from those around them. Marty is a self-described life-long learner. It was the second note I wrote down about him during his interview—the first note was “likes hockey.” His commitment to life-long learning makes him a humble leader. As many know, his arrival at Rensselaer began with a set of ongoing “Listening and Learning Tours”, where he connects with hundreds of students, faculty, staff and alumni. Marty decided to embrace what he didn’t know as an opportunity for growth, so he could serve his alma mater best.

From my interactions with him, I can tell that Marty’s humility is built on his authenticity. When he entered his interview and was introduced formally, he immediately turned to the committee and said, “call me Marty.” We all laughed at this, and it was the first sign that he would be an authentic and down-to-earth leader. As a candidate, he asked the student interviewers directly about our challenges at RPI. As president, Marty is seen often around the Rensselaer Union, at the Career Fair, or greeting students at the Troy Building. He is always good for a friendly smile and wave.

Humility and authenticity mean little without action. Our students and alumni are composed of scientific minds; we agree that actions speak louder than words. Simply put, Marty is a man of action—his passions have all resulted in tangible community impacts. At Massachusetts Institute of Technology, his passion for education was channeled into the massive accessible education initiative edX. His passion for mental health turned into the wellbeing organization MindHandHeart. When Marty commits to supporting an initiative, he clearly follows through with real, tangible action.

So, when people ask me, “is Marty really that cool?” I don’t just tell them about how, on paper, he is this humble, authentic, man of action. I tell them about how he brought his two dogs to the freshmen barbeque. I tell them about how he carries the same backpack that I do. RPI has been invigorated by Marty’s presence, yet it has also been grounded by him.

In our first few meetings, I heard about Marty’s vision for a diverse but unified campus. There are many challenges that come with such a vision, including shared governance and service-based leadership. Marty has demonstrated his belief that a leader is only as strong as his team—and that team includes all of you. Our strength as a community is defined not just by what unifies us, but what diversifies us. With Marty at the helm, and all of Rensselaer alongside him, I cannot wait to see how our Institute will grow.