Society Needs to Regain Bold Action, MIT President Tells Graduates

Urges them to be 'open to new ideas'


CAMBRIDGE, MASS.-- President Charles M. Vest of the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology called upon graduating students today (June 7)
to "return to a boldness of spirit, thought and action" and be "open to
new ideas."

"We live in an age that seems to reject bold thought and bold
action," Dr. Vest said in his annual charge to graduates at MIT's 130th
commencement.

"This is true in America, and it is true in Europe. Why is this?
Does boldness come with a price tag we can't afford? Does it imply
excess or waste or impracticality? Are we too cynical to embrace
visionary new ideas? Have we turned from boldness because such vision
and action usually call for shared commitment... and we only care for
what affects us personally and immediately? Is this a natural outcome of
our maturation as a nation and as a society?"

"Perhaps all of the above," Dr. Vest said.

Dr. Vest cited several examples of projects and goals that have
been abandoned because they were deemed to be "too expensive...too
ambitious...too ideological, too uncomfortable, too difficult."

"A decade ago the United States committed itself to constructing
the Superconducting Supercollider, a huge new particle accelerator. We
invested over two billion dollars, and brought the project almost
halfway to conclusion. Then we simply changed our mind, walked away, and
left a rusting hulk in the arid Texas desert."

"Repeatedly we have set goals to be met by our schools by the year
2000 - just four years hence: goals that call for our students to be
first in the world in science and mathematics achievement ... and for
every school to be free of drugs and violence. But few seem serious
about accomplishing this."

"In the 1960's, we determined that we would build a society in
which race would no longer matter, and that we would make the necessary
interim commitments until we reached that goal. We seem to be backing
off right and left."

"The state of education in America," Dr. Vest said, "is simply
unacceptable. We must correct it. We must recognize that poverty of
spirit and poverty of values - even more than financial poverty - are at
the heart of this crisis. And we must - as a society - resolve to act."

Telling the graduates they must be "open to new ideas and new
people," Dr. Vest added:

"These are economically difficult times in America - at least
relative to our aspirations and to the post war boom years. And as times
get tight, there is a natural tendency to turn inward. So once again, we
hear concerns that we should not be educating so many foreign graduate
students. We hear that immigrants are a major cause of our woes. And we
keep pulling apart into homogeneous groupings of one sort or another.
But just because these are natural or understandable tendencies does not
make them right.

"America has always been a nation of immigrants and we have always
been a land of opportunity. These statements perhaps sound quaint or old
fashioned, but they are true, and we must retain their spirit."

"Openness and meritocracy are what have made MIT great, and you
must continue that spirit and philosophy in your life endeavors."

He summed up, "Bring the boldness of thought and accomplishment to
science, technology and society that you have brought to your MIT
research projects. Make our environment healthy. Prevent and cure
disease. Rebuild our cities and renew our sense of community. Continue
the great adventure of understanding the world around us."


Topics: Commencement, MIT presidency

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