EDITORIAL 150 celebration hit the mark

You only turn 150 once, and MIT pulled out all the stops for its sesquicentennial. This past semester’s anniversary celebrations were, for the most part, what celebrations should be. From the 150 Exhibit at the MIT Museum to FAST Art to the Open House, MIT150 was fun. We hope that today’s commencement activities tie it all together nicely.

But the celebrations were more than just cute distractions. What did MIT150 accomplish? We’ve noticed three major goals of the celebration programming.

First and foremost, MIT150 was a good way to build campus community — and community at MIT is not the easiest thing to come by. While other universities coalesce around pride in football teams, colors, or mascots, MIT has never seemed to have that kind of intense campus cohesion. We applaud the MIT150 organizers’ efforts to unite faculty, staff, and students around exactly what the Institute does best: science and technology. Notably, the MIT150 symposia — on topics from brains to cancer to economics — were an admirable way to showcase MIT’s intellectual muscle in a very accessible way. We also noted strong community participation in the April 30 Open House, which showcased not only academic research but also the less-recognized — but no less important — work of MIT facilities and support staff. Overall, MIT150 served to give the campus a much-needed infusion of pride, and that’s to be commended.

Second, we observed significant alumni enthusiasm for the 150 celebrations. The April 10 Convocation seemed to be an especially good opportunity to bring alumni back to Boston and back to campus. And, considering MIT has a body of very powerful alumni, keeping them connected with — and proud of — the Institute is a worthwhile endeavor.

Third, MIT150 did a great deal to bolster the Institute’s image in Cambridge, in the U.S., and in the world. Locally, the Open House and FAST Light festival saw big turnout from Boston-area residents, and we can only imagine that their impression of MIT was a good one. Nationally and internationally, the 150th got MIT a lot of good press — from recognition by the U.S. Senate and Google to features in the Boston Globe and The Guardian. And while a good image certainly is not everything, it is valuable. MIT has an especially strong interest in showing Cambridge it is a “team player,” and we think the open-to-the-community 150 events were a genuine way to prove that.

For all of these efforts, MIT150 Steering Committee Chair David A. Mindell PhD ’96, FAST LIGHT curator J. Meejin Yoon, and Open House Co-Chairs Elizabeth C. Young and Paul A. Lagacé ’78 deserve special recognition, as do the many other people, departments, and administrative divisions who made MIT150 possible but cannot all be listed here.

Like everything, however, there is always room for improvement. For the 200th — and any campus-wide celebrations before then — we ask organizers to more carefully consider how to involve students, who are truly the lifeblood of MIT. Some of the semester’s events saw disinterest or unawareness among undergraduates. Is there a better way to motivate and excite MIT’s famously busy students about events like, for instance, the Next Century Convocation?

Furthermore, with the official MIT150 celebrations now over, what can we learn from them? Are there aspects of MIT150 that should be continued, even in the absence of a special anniversary?

Yes. Most importantly, holding events that encourage a meaningful sense of campus community or campus pride have practical value. They make MIT an attractive place for prospective students, and current students — after graduating — may be more likely to give back to MIT. Crucially, such “community building” events should be tailored to what makes MIT unique and should shy away from precedents set by other institutions. MIT150, through events like the symposia, FAST, and Open House, did this well.

In that same vein, we see no reason to wait another 50 years for the next FAST Art festival. Events like FAST are a great way to bring bland areas of campus to life. They’re also a vehicle for students to creatively contribute to the campus atmosphere. While we understand that installations like those seen in FAST have costs and are an extra burden on facilities staff, The Tech calls upon MIT to consider ways to preserve the spirit of FAST in years to come, if not the actual installations themselves.

The Open House, too, is something we think MIT should try again in the near future. Like fast, the Open House gives students a way to showcase their work in a fun, low-stress fashion. The enthusiasm for the event from the local community was also undeniable — especially from the younger crowd. Resources permitting, Open Houses could be community-friendly ways to set MIT apart from other research universities.

Without active effort, then, the memory and lessons of MIT150 may not persist for more than a few years. We ask students, faculty, and administration to draw upon the best of the past semester’s celebrations and make them part of MIT until the 200th and beyond.