MIT celebrates centennial with parade, pageant, and parties

On Saturday, May 7, with final exams approaching, the MIT community did something unexpected: it celebrated. The celebration was uniquely MIT and included a parade led by the famous Oliver Smoot ’62 (after which the smoot, a unit of measure, is named), an extravagant pageant with fireworks before the Great Dome, and a night of dance parties with much-anticipated open bars.

The cause for celebration was not finals, but rather the hundred-year anniversary of MIT’s move from Boston and over the Charles River to Cambridge. MIT’s centennial festivities have been taking place for months as part of the MIT 2016 program, which even boasts its own steering committee, chaired by Professor John Ochsendorf.

Moving Day at MIT on May 7 was the pinnacle of these centennial events. It commemorated MIT’s move in 1916, as well as the past 100 years of achievements from the Institute.

In the afternoon, members of the MIT community gathered to either watch or participate in a Crossing the Charles procession. Various labs, teams, and other groups crossed the Charles River from Boston to Cambridge using all sorts of modes of transportation, many of which they had built.

A highlight was a re-creation of the bucentaur, or Venetian barge, that MIT had used 100 years earlier to transport its charter across the river. The re-created one was 20 feet long and had been built by students out of luan wood, paper maché, and cardboard.

The bucentaur was joined by motorized kayaks, sailboats, and a model of the Great Dome on a raft.

Perfectly positioned on the “Reif Raft” to see the boats go by were President Rafael Reif himself, Chairman of the Corporation Robert Millard ’73, and Cambridge Mayor E. Denise Simmons, who celebrated the occasion together.

As some people crossed by water, others crossed by land. Leading the parade over the Harvard bridge was Oliver Smoot. Others in the parade included Ray Magliozzi of NPR's Car Talk, as well as a cheetah robot developed at the MIT Biomimetics Robotics Lab.

Those participating on both land and water were also competing to be in the top four teams recognized. A group of professors and administrators stationed in a judges’ box on the bridge assigned points based on metrics like “elegant engineering design” and “expressing humor, school spirit, and/or a sense of ‘only at MIT.’”

Many alumni were on campus to partake in the crossing, having just participated that morning in a set of events to mark the public launch of MIT’s latest capital campaign that seeks to raise $5 billion.

In the evening, MIT hosted a pageant in Killian Court that was reminiscent of the one held to celebrate the opening of the new campus a century ago. This pageant had a full multimedia display that included a lit-up Great Dome and fireworks over the Charles River.

The multimedia display even included playful anagramming of the engraved “Massachusetts Institute of Technology” on Building 10. Powerful projectors were used to give the illusion that the stone letters were actually moving around.

Professional actors led a performance that put MIT’s motto, “Mens et Manus,” and the age-old debate of theory versus practice, on display. The actors brought to life the people in the MIT seal — one a stodgy old man with his nose buried in books, and the other a young, brash woman carrying a hammer.

They were joined by a cappella and dance groups, as well as puppeteers who wore gigantic costumes of famous MIT alumni that looked like large bobbleheads.

Moving Day concluded with four dance parties under tents that were spread out across the campus. Each party had a theme from a particular time period in the past century.

Students loved not only the open bars, but also the opportunity to come together and dance as a community.

“There were old people, young people, hot people, not-so-hot people,” wrote one commenter on the MIT Confessions Facebook page wrote. “It seemed like the entire community was eager to just let go and get rowdy. I was surprised MIT could turn up that much.”