Stata chosen as the 2010 commencement speaker

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Raymond S. Stata, prominent benefactor of the Ray and Maria Stata Center, will deliver the 2010 Commencement Address to graduates on June 4. Stata is seen here at the Analog Devices corporate headquarters in Norwood, MA where he is Chairman of the Board of Directors.
David M. Templeton—The Tech

Raymond S. Stata ’57, founder of Massachusetts-based Analog Devices, Inc. and namesake of MIT’s Ray and Maria Stata Center, will this year’s commencement address.

Stata (pronounced “STAY-tah”), recieved both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from MIT and donated $25 million in 1997 to fund the construction of the Stata Center, which opened in 2004.

Recent commencement speakers have included Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick last year, Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus in 2008, and former MIT president Charles M. Vest in 2007.

“Ray Stata is a successful entrepreneur, engineer, and a fellow nerd. We are delighted to have this loyal friend of MIT deliver our commencement speech,” said Alex Hamilton Chan, president of the Graduate Student Council and member of the Commencement Committee.

W. Eric L. Grimson PhD ’80, chair of the Commencement Committee, said that Stata was a “great example of an MIT success,” and that he “used what he learned [at MIT] to make a difference in the world”.

Student reactions

Arjun Naskar ’09, who is graduating this year, did his MIT admissions interview with Stata. “He’s a great guy,” Naskar said, and “he’ll definitely give good advice.”

Naskar said he was unsure if “the class will be stoked compared to the speakers that Harvard and most other schools get.”

Victoria E. Lee ’10 initially said “Cool!”, but admitted she had suggested Bill Nye “The Science Guy” and Tina Fey, and so was “kinda” disappointed.

Lily L. Keung ’10 asked, “aren’t commencement speakers usually boring?”

Grimson discusses selection

Grimson, who has chaired the committee since 1998, cited Stata’s role as co-chair of the Massachusetts Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Collaborative, aimed at increasing interest in STEM fields in Massachusetts schools; Stata’s funding of MIT startups such as Stata Venture Partners; and Stata’s “giving back” to MIT as examples of his success and his maintained contact with the MIT community.

According Grimson, being an alumnus of MIT is “plus” when being chosen as commencement speaker, since alumni know the MIT culture and can talk about how MIT got them where they are now.

Grimson said that other factors considered when selecting a speaker are the resonance a speaker’s message would have with MIT, the timeliness of the speaker’s message, and the presentation abilities of the speaker.

Stata reflects

MIT President Susan J. Hockfield contacted Stata to ask him to be this year’s speaker. According to Stata, Hockfield felt that Stata, as an MIT graduate who knew MIT well and had benefitted from an MIT education, could share thoughts and experiences that would be of interest to graduates.

At first, “I was a little hesitant,” Stata said, being unsure of the interest and value of his message. But on reflection, he said, he accepted because “there were so many exciting things to say about the enormous impact MIT has had on society, as well as the lives and and careers of graduates,” including his own.

Stata added that his ideas for the address were still being formulated, and declined to go into detail about them.

Who is on the committee?

The Commencement Committee is comprised of Executive Officer of Commencement Gayle M. Gallagher, Grimson, faculty members, and student representatives. This year’s student representatives were Chan, Class of 2010 President Jason A. Scott ’10, and Undergraduate Association President Michael A. Bennie ’10.

Chan said that the committee initially received a list of over 150 suggested names from students, which the Committee shortened to 10–15 speakers. This list was forwarded as an advisory list to President Hockfield, who ultimately made the final selection of the speaker. It is not a requirement that the chosen speaker be on the short list, and those on the committee would not say if Stata was on it.

According to Scott, this short list was submitted last May, and the members of the Committee were informed of Stata’s selection at a meeting last week.

Both Chan and Scott said that the members of the committee agreed to keep the short list confidential, and would not comment on who else was on it. In the initial surveying of students, Chan and Scott said that President Barack Obama was a popular suggestion, and Scott added that some suggestions included Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, and Bill Nye. (According to Nye’s publicity representatives, he has never been asked to speak at an MIT commencement.)

Grimson said that entertainers are not chosen unless the message resonates with MIT. He suggested that an entertainer like Bono could be considered because of his involvement with relief efforts.

Unlike many universities, MIT does not pay its commencement speakers, and only pays for expenses and a gift to the speakers. Grimson declined to comment on the details or size of the gift.