PRESIDENT CHARLES M. VEST


CHARGE TO THE GRADUATES

COMMENCEMENT CEREMONIES

MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY

CAMBRIDGE, MASS., JUNE 2, 2000

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Once again we are gathered in Killian Court to celebrate accomplishment, heritage, and passage. We are surrounded by your parents, family, friends, spouses, and children who have supported and sustained you through the years.

You will recognize them today by their smiles -- brought about by their great pride in your accomplishments...and, no doubt, by a sense of great relief to their bank accounts.

The MIT Class of 2000. Sounds good, doesn't it? It resounds with your achievements. This is, indeed, your moment.

It is also one of those moments in time that -- by virtue of their place in the century and the ages -- spark reflection on what has come before and hold the promise of what lies ahead.

With us today is a group of remarkable individuals who could tell us much about where we have been and probably quite a bit about where we will go. They are the members of the Class of 1950 -- the largest 50 year reunion class ever. Many of them were veterans of World War II by the time they graduated from MIT, and we are grateful for their service to the nation and the world.

In the spring of their junior year, Winston Churchill spoke at MIT -- at the Mid Century Convocation. Churchill was a legendary orator...and a legendary wit.

It is said that when he served in the British Parliament, one of his favorite pastimes was to feign the onset of sleep during a lengthy oration by some neophyte member. He would slowly close his eyes and begin to nod his head. Once an exasperated speaker who had fallen for the trap said "Mr. Churchill, are you asleep, sir?" Churchill replied "No, but I wish to God I were!"

This morning we can do better than that. In return for your attention, I will be brief.

AN EVOLVING INSTITUTION, A CONSTANT MISSION

But I must begin at the very beginning. MIT was founded in 1861 to advance science and the arts, and to transfer them to the world of industry and commerce.

(I should note that the term "art" as it was used in 1861 actually referred to the "practical arts" or what today we would call engineering and architecture.)

As MIT has evolved during the intervening century and a half, it has entered and defined new fields, but has held true to this mission. Today, MIT is an icon for excellence in science, engineering and management. And we are an icon for engaging the world.

You who are graduating today are the heirs of MIT and its mission.

At the heart of our mission is the culture of science. And yet, science has slipped farther and farther from the public mind just as it becomes more and more central to our lives. Science is part of the human adventure -- a way of knowing, discovering and understanding our world.

It also provides the new knowledge that makes it possible to address many of the most profound challenges of our times: providing a healthy environment for our planet; creating robust, sustainable economies around the world; and dramatically improving health care and quality of life , to name just a few.

These goals are attainable only through the development and wise application of scientific knowledge.

You are the heirs to this knowledge and this mission. But you are heirs to even more -- because over the years we have learned that science, engineering and management cannot stand in isolation. We have learned that the humanities and the social sciences must be an integral part of what defines MIT.

Our quest for truth, the quality and effectiveness of our intellectual dialogue, and the education of our students have demanded the establishment of world-class faculty and programs in the humanities and the social sciences. And this is precisely what we have established. Indeed, this year marks the 50th anniversary of MIT's School of Humanities and Social Science.

In this year 2000, MIT still encompasses "Science and the Arts." But now we must use "Art" in its modern meaning -- not the archaic meaning of 1861. What is the modern meaning of the arts at MIT?

It is the Metropolitan Opera's January 1, 2000 production of The Great Gatsby, which it commissioned from MIT Professor John Harbison.

It is the unique performances of our student Balinese Gamelan Society.

It is the widely acclaimed Brain Opera by the Media Lab's Tod Machover.

It is the powerful writings of Professor and novelist Anita Desai.

It is the strongly affecting public art of Krzysztof Wodiczko and his students.

It is the new level of architecture embodied in the buildings designed for us by Frank Gehry, Fumihiko Maki and Steven Holl -- buildings which will rise on this campus over the next five years.

The arts have a deep and permanent place at MIT. Indeed, so integral have the arts become at MIT, that the School of Humanities and Social Science is taking on a new name. Beginning July 1, it will become the School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences.

Thus, MIT today is a great and diverse institution -- one that aspires to the deepest scholarly inquiry and scientific research... one that seeks to engage the larger world in important ways... and one that seeks to bring the full spectrum of scientific, technical, social, and artistic perspectives to bear on what we do.

This is your legacy.

REWEAVING THE RAINBOW

As you graduate, remember to bring all that you have learned and value to your personal and professional lives: science and the arts, deep inquiry and creative application, and one thing more. Bring with you the lessons that you have learned from living and learning with a remarkable group of students and faculty from every culture and corner of the world.

And each of you must remain part of the Institute. Every member of this community -- from freshman to faculty to staff member to graduate -- should live every day understanding that he or she is an integral element of the continuum of people, ideas and accomplishments that is MIT

Oxford Professor Richard Dawkins recently wrote a remarkable book, called Unweaving the Rainbow. The title refers to a poem by John Keats, who was a contemporary of Sir Isaac Newton. Keats was appalled when Newton showed that a prism could separate white light into its constituent colors. He felt that what Newton had done was to unweave the rainbow -- fragmenting it and diminishing its wonder and beauty.

I do not believe that explaining the rainbow diminishes it. For me, the discoveries of science are cause for wonder. But I do worry about the sense of fragmentation that characterizes much of our world: knowledge is splintered into ever more discrete disciplines and different cultures often keep us apart rather than enrich us.

Our campuses are no exception.

My hope for MIT, and for you, is that we reweave the rainbow and bring our light to its brightest potential. This requires the integration of every person -- of every constituent element of our light:

The sciences and the arts must flourish together.

The disciplines must evolve and occasionally combine in order to address the opportunities of a new century.

The freshmen and the alumni must flourish together.

Research on our campus must advance in concert with interaction with the larger world.

Our individual lives and concerns must be informed and shaped by those of our friends and colleagues.

We must care for each other.

If we can do all this -- our contributions as individuals and as a community will have no match.

In closing, I ask that you allow me to share a personal comment about the meaning of community. This spring represents for me -- as for you -- a new beginning and a new reality.

My wife Becky is with us today -- celebrating your commencement -- because of the MIT community. On February 26 of this year, in the middle of the night, six of our Campus Police officers responded to my emergency call from the President's House. Their rapid and professional actions saved Becky's life. But they weren't just doing their job. They cared. And her continuing recovery has been due in no small measure to the outpouring of concern and offers of help from every corner of MIT.

We will be forever grateful for that...and for the privilege of belonging to this remarkable place that is MIT.

CHARGE TO THE GRADUATES

You -- our graduates -- have been members of this community from the first day you stepped through the doors at 77 Massachusetts Avenue.

As you move into the world beyond this campus, keep weaving the rainbow that connects our explorations and aspirations, and carry with you the knowledge that you are -- and will always be -- a part of MIT.

Men and Women of MIT, I wish you Godspeed and the very best of good fortune.


Topics: Commencement, MIT presidency, Special events and guest speakers

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