Commencement weekend features OneMIT ceremony for Class of 2022 and in-person celebration for Classes of 2020 and 2021
WTO Director Okonjo-Iweala reminds graduates of the importance of education, science, policy, and problem-solving
Commencement ceremonies for the Classes of 2022, 2021, and 2020 took place Friday, May 27 and Saturday, May 28. The proceedings differed from past years’, with all graduates attending a 90-minute OneMIT ceremony on Killian Court, after which Class of 2022 undergraduates received their diplomas on Briggs Field; the Classes of 2021 and 2020 received congratulatory scrolls in recognition of completed Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctoral degrees in a special ceremony held May 28.
The Class of 2022 Commencement ceremony celebrated 1,099 undergraduate and 2,590 graduate students’ receiving their diplomas.
The OneMIT ceremony began with words from Institute Chaplain Thea Keith-Lucas, as well as a moment of silence in remembrance of the victims of the Uvalde school shooting. Keith-Lucas was followed by a rendition of the national anthem by the Chorallaries of MIT.
Next, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala MCP ’78, PhD ’81, director of the World Trade Organization — first woman and African to do so — and former head of the World Bank, addressed the graduates as their commencement speaker.
Okonjo-Iweala opened her speech with a salute to President L. Rafael Reif, noting that this would be his last commencement as president; she pointed to a number of former MIT professors and staff, now in senior positions at other institutions, as a testament to Reif’s contributions.
Okonjo-Iweala discussed her own educational journey, recalling that MIT had been extremely supportive of international students like herself, that the International Students’ Office promised to help her find the means to pay tuition, and that “not every Cambridge-based institution was as welcoming at the time.” She connected the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic to a three-year disruption in her schooling during the civil war in Nigeria, and emphasized that “education is a privilege, and with that privilege comes responsibility — the responsibility to use it for others, not just for yourself.”
She then spoke about combining science, social science, and public policy to meet the challenges of our future, pointing out that too often, solutions in one of these realms fail to address the others.
“When we look at the COVID-19 response, we see we had good science, but not so good politics and public policy,” she said. She noted that “at the national and international levels, we hadn’t made the necessary health system investments, nor had we put in place the governance arrangements and early warning systems needed to identify and contain potentially dangerous new pathogens. In other words, policy-wise, pandemic preparedness was on a global level totally missing,” though a vaccine was developed quickly.
She quoted the WHO Director General, describing rich countries’ collecting the vaccine supply en masse, while the rest of the world “scrambled for scraps,” and pointed out that “as with live-saving HIV/AIDS drugs 20 years ago, people in poor countries, especially in Africa, found themselves at the back of the queue for COVID-19 vaccines.” She said that “since we all know no one is safe until everyone is safe, the risk of more dangerous variants and pathogens remains real because of this public policy lapse and the lack of timely international cooperation.”
She then gave some examples of her own leadership, stating that her training at MIT gave her “the framework needed to pursue the career path” she followed in international development.
She spoke about working in agriculture, bringing improved seeds and new technology to farmers in Africa and the Middle East to improve their incomes and household welfare “at a pace they could not have imagined possible.” She also discussed implementing budgetary policy that put mobile phones in the hands of two million women farmers so that they may directly receive government vouchers, empowering them to improve agricultural yield.
She explained that “the problem solving approach I’ve taken in my career, my quest to bridge gaps between science, innovation, and public policy, to take a bit of risk, to try new approaches has paid off in a rewarding career whose satisfaction is the ability to serve others.”
She concluded with words from Nelson Mandela, telling the graduates that “you have made what seemed impossible, possible. Embrace the opportunities to serve.”
Following Okonjo-Iweala’s speech, Adam Joseph Miller G, president of the Graduate Student Council, and Temiloluwa Omittogun ’22, president of the Class of 2022, addressed the audience.
Reif then delivered the traditional charge to the graduates, and asked the graduates, as he has at previous commencements, to hack the world — until you make the world a little more like MIT.”
The OneMIT ceremony concluded with a performance of “Arise All Ye of MIT,” the school song, led by the Chorallaries.
The undergraduate degree conferral on Briggs Field followed; it began with an address by Chancellor Melissa Nobles, which was followed by a performance by physics and mathematics major Quinn Brodsky ’22. Brodsky made history in 2018 as the first female member of the (previously all-male) MIT Logarhythms acapella group. The Class of 2022 undergraduates then received their diplomas.
A special ceremony for the Classes of 2021 and 2020 was held the following day on Killian Court, and included an address by Reif, speeches by presidents of the classes of 2020 and 2021, a speech by Kealoha ’99 — the first Poet Laureate from Hawaii — and congratulatory scroll conferral on all graduates from 2020 and 2021.