Speakers Challenge Graduates: Only You Can Save the World
Over 2,000 students received degrees last Friday during MIT’s 141st Commencement in front of approximately 10,000 guests, including members of the 50-year reunion Class of 1957.
During the ceremony, the Class of 2007 presented MIT with the Senior Gift, a check for $26,861 that will go toward the newly-established Class of 2007 study abroad fund and other MIT groups and funds. Alumni Association President Martin Y. Tang GM ’72 contributed $15,000 because of the record 52 percent participation rate for the Senior Gift. The record was previously 51 percent, set by the Class of 2006 last year.
According to the MIT News Office, 2,110 undergraduates and graduate students received 1,068 bachelor’s degrees, 1,000 master’s degrees, 282 doctorates, and 10 engineer’s degrees. Over 2,200 students attended the ceremony, as some students who received degrees in September or February walked across the stage last week, Registrar Mary Callahan said.
Former MIT President Charles M. Vest, president-elect of the National Academy of Engineering, gave the Commencement address, delivering a speech about opportunity and service and describing how graduates of the Institute can and must “make the world well.”
For the full text of Vest’s address, as well as other Commencement speeches, see pages 5–7.
Vest described the opportunities MIT has given him as he served as the Institute’s president from 1990-2004, presenting anecdotes about meeting the living Apollo astronauts at the White House in 1994 and having tea with Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace in 2001.
“My real point here is that education and MIT opened amazing doors of opportunities to me — opportunity to learn, opportunity to teach, and opportunity to serve a greater good,” Vest said. “Indeed, the opportunity to serve is what I have valued above all else.”
Vest stated that MIT faculty — “the intellectual leaders, the teachers and scholars who are the essence of MIT” — were the ones who had given him the opportunity to change the world. They had also prepared the graduates, Vest said, for future opportunities that will be “global in scale and very complex” in a world with “continuous acceleration of technological progress.”
Vest continued by describing new tools and challenges in information technology and life science that the graduates will need to face. “Your generation ... is already leading us into a new domain of global interaction,” Vest said, pointing to social networking, Wikipedia, and YouTube as examples. “I am convinced that your way of community and working ... reflect a fundamental transformation.”
“You can and must guide this transformation,” Vest said.
In the life sciences, Vest pointed to the “three great frontiers” of genomic medicine, cognitive science and neuroscience, and engineering which will present both challenges and opportunities.
He cited “biohacking” as an example of how engineering and biology could be fused to design and build new and different biological functions and systems.
But these new opportunities also present ethical and legal questions, Vest said. “You must be prepared to engage in the public dialogue and bring to it your own moral compasses and your commitment to applying the rationality of science and engineering to improving the human condition.”
Speeches from Graduate Student Council President Eric G. Weese G and 2007 Class President Susan Shin ’07 followed Vest’s address.
“It may well be that none of us will have all that we want, but it’s also likely that we will all have much more than we need,” Weese said. “... Please keep in mind that we are among the most fortunate ever.”
Shin compared the MIT journey to the journey of Hiro Nakamura, a character from the NBC television show “Heroes.” Nakamura is an office worker who discovers one day that he possesses the ability to bend space and time. He realizes, Shin said, that with this power he has a great responsibility to the rest of the world.
“When I look out into the audience today, I see my friends, my classmates, my heroes, and I recognize their extraordinary gifts,” Shin said. “... All of us have persevered through the hardships of life at MIT and achieved greatness.”
Current MIT President Susan Hockfield gave the final speech. She challenged the graduates to become leaders of their generation and to inspire future generations with “a renewed sense of optimism for the future.”
“If we are to realize our optimism, we need to kindle in others the same love and passion for truth and discovery, for creativity and problem-solving, that brought us all here,” Hockfield said.
In addition to these four speeches, the ceremony included an Invocation delivered by Reverend Johanna Kiefner, MIT’s Lutheran chaplain, the national anthem performed by the MIT Chorallaries, and the awarding of the degrees by Hockfield and Provost L. Rafael Reif.
Also during the ceremony, six cloth panels were unrolled from the outside of Lobby 10. Unseen by a portion of the audience, the hack read: “Will have thesis finished pronto. IHTFP.”
The ceremony can be viewed online at http://web.mit.edu/commencement/2007/webcast.html. Additional information about this year’s Senior Gift campaign can be found at http://web.mit.edu/senior-gift/.