• A graduating student walks out of Lobby 7 on the morning of the Commencement ceremony.

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  • An MIT alumnus — whose red coat signifies he graduated 50 years or more ago — and his wife walk toward MIT's main entrance at 77 Massachusetts Avenue.

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  • Graduating students gather for a posed photo outside of Rockwell Cage, where they lined up for the procession into the ceremony in Killian Court.

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  • Graduating students sit on the floor of Rockwell Cage, prior to lining up.

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  • A doctoral student sits among the strings that separate out the students during the line up for procession.

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  • A doctoral student sits among the strings that separate out the students during the line up for procession.

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  • Students sit in Rockwell Cage, waiting for the ceremony procession to begin.

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  • A student grabs some coffee at the Student Center before the ceremony begins.

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  • Or, maybe, soda is the drink of choice.

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  • MIT students take pride in adorning their caps with various decorations. Here, a student has turned her cap into Earth, surrounded by satellites.

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  • A student proudly wears a scale replica of Killian Court, the site of the Commencement ceremony, on his mortarboard.

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  • Faculty members get ready before the ceremony in Kresge Auditorium.

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  • Robes await faculty inside of Kresge Auditorium.

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  • A set of antlers sticks out among the caps and gowns.

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  • Doctoral students line up in preparation to march to Killian Court.

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  • MIT musicians play outside of Lobby 7 as administrators and faculty prepare to march into Killian Court.

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  • The MIT Police Honor Guard enters Killian Court to begin the 146th Commencement exercises.

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  • Alumni who have graduated 50 or more years ago are given red coats. Members of the Class of 1962, who received their coats this year, enter Killian Court at the beginning of the ceremony.

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  • The 'Red Coats' listen intently from their seats in Killian Court during the ceremony.

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  • Salman Khan '98, MEng '98, founder of Khan Academy, delivers the Commencement address to the Class of 2012.

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  • MIT President Susan Hockfield delivers the Charge to the Graduates during the Commencement ceremony. This was Hockfield's final Commencement as president of MIT.

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  • A student wears her Brass Rat, MIT's class ring.

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  • Programs for MIT's 146th Commencement sit on chairs prior to the graduates' entrance into Killian Court.

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  • A view from the Great Dome above Killian Court.

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  • A view from the Great Dome above Killian Court.

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  • President Susan Hockfield leads MIT administrators, faculty members, Corporation members and the Commencement speaker, Sal Khan, down Massachusetts Avenue on their way into Killian Court.

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  • A birds-eye view of the main stage, where MIT administrators and faculty members sat.

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  • R. Gregory Turner, president of MIT's Alumni Association, holds the ceremonial mace, which is adorned with a beaver — the Institute's mascot — on top.

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  • Provost and President-elect L. Rafael Reif, left, poses for a photo with MIT's 14th president, Paul Gray.

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  • Commencement speaker Sal Khan, middle, speaks with Provost and President-elect L. Rafael Reif, while President Susan Hockfield listens.

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  • An audience member wears a graduating student's cap.

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  • It's not just the graduating students who take to decorating their headgear.

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  • MIT Corporation Chairman John Reed '61, SM '65 speaks during the exercises.

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  • Chaplain to the Institute Robert Randolph delivers the invocation to open the Commencement exercises.

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  • Nathaniel Fox, president of the Class of 2012, delivers an address, followed by the presentation of the senior class gift 镄 which this year was the creating of 'Mad Money Grants' a new funding source for student groups.

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  • Alex Evans, president of the Graduate Student Council, delivers his address to the graduating students.

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  • Members of the Chorallaries, MIT's oldest coed a cappella group, sing at Commencement.

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Sal Khan salutes ‘the wizards of tomorrow’

In commencement address, 1998 alumnus asks the Class of 2012 to perform a thought experiment in time travel.


On a beautiful sunny morning, 939 undergraduates and 1,545 graduate students received their MIT diplomas today after hearing an address by Sal Khan ’98, MEng ’98, founder of the online Khan Academy, that elicited gales of laughter while also providing thought-provoking advice.

MIT President Susan Hockfield told the graduates that she has more in common with this year’s class than with previous ones: She too, she said, will be moving on after nearly eight years as the Institute’s leader. Hockfield, who will be succeeded as president by Provost L. Rafael Reif on July 2, said, “All of us likely look forward to commencing our next chapter with a sense of breathless excitement.”

Among the lessons Hockfield said she has learned at the Institute: “Every day, MIT faculty, students, postdocs, staff and alumni take a sharp look at the way things are — and find a way to make them better.” One sterling example of that, she said, is Khan, who has created “a brand-new catalyst for transforming how, when and how well everyone learns everywhere, online.”

In introducing Khan, John Reed ’61, SM ’65, chairman of the MIT Corporation, pointed out that this was not Khan’s first appearance before Killian Court: As president of his senior class, Khan spoke at Commencement in 1998, saying then that “it is no exaggeration to say that we will change the world.”

Reed added: “Having checked this assignment off his to-do list, he joins us here today.”

Khan said that his experience at MIT has “played a much deeper role than many of you might appreciate” in his own life. He was proud of his alma mater, he said, when hearing of its plans a decade ago to launch MIT OpenCourseWare, making course materials available to anyone in the world for free — and more recently with the announcement of edX, a partnership with Harvard University that will carry that concept of free access to top-level higher education even further. While other institutions were looking for ways to profit from, or defend against, online education, MIT opted for free and open access — “to put principle over profit,” as Khan put it.

That model, he said, “in no small way inspired what has now become the Khan Academy,” which offers thousands of free educational videos aimed at elementary and high school students.

Khan compared MIT to the fictional Hogwarts school in the bestselling Harry Potter series. “The ideas and the research and the science that percolates behind these walls, that’s the closest thing to magic in the real world,” he said. “Frankly, to people outside this campus, it looks like magic.”

Khan described the MIT faculty as “the leading wizards of our time, the Dumbledores and McGonagalls,” he said, referring to Harry Potter’s fictional teachers of wizardry.

Coming back to MIT, Khan said, felt like returning to a close family. MIT students all share “that same core desire to understand the universe … to push humanity forward,” he said. Faced with the demands of a curriculum that pushes them to their limits, he said, “you cry together, you laugh together, you procrastinate together, you have sleepless nights together,” resulting in “the deepest possible bonds” — which Khan compared to those of soldiers who have ventured through combat together.

Khan urged the graduates, as they face life, to try to be “as incredibly, and maybe delusionally, positive as possible,” and to force themselves to smile “with every atom of your body,” even in difficult times.

Before they set out into the world, Khan asked the Class of 2012 to carry out a “thought experiment.” He urged them to imagine themselves 50 years from now, reflecting back on their lives, and thinking about the things they might have wished to do differently: spending more time with family members, or expressing their love more openly to those they care about.

But then imagine, Khan said, that a genie appears and gives them the chance to travel back those 50 years, and find themselves back again at Commencement — with a second chance to realize that “I can laugh more, I can sing more, I can dance more, I can be more of a source of positivity for the people around me, and empower more people.”

As they embark on this imagined “second chance,” Khan said, he was “just in awe of the potential that’s here.” Addressing the graduates as “the wizards of tomorrow,” he said, “I’m just excited to see what you’re going to do with your second pass.”

Hockfield, in her charge to the students, thanked the Class of 2012 for its class gift of $20,000, which will be used to fund special projects and trips by student clubs and organizations. More than 80 percent of the class contributed, she said, noting that this was, “by an enormously wide margin, the highest participation in the history of MIT.”

“I know you will leave here with the deep imprint of this community’s profound commitment to service,” Hockfield said. “Now is the moment for us to send you forth … to put MIT’s spirit and principles to work around the globe.”


Topics: Alumni/ae, Commencement, Faculty, Graduate, postdoctoral, MIT Administration, MIT presidency, Special events and guest speakers, Student life, Students, Undergraduate

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