Friday, October 4, 2019

I am honored beyond words by the naming of this courtyard in my honor and this celebration.  I’m a bit embarrassed by all of this because I’m acutely aware that all of you gathered on this courtyard today, and many, many others who couldn’t join us, deserve all the credit for imagining the possibilities and delivering on them during my presidency. Thank you, all of you!  From the bottom to the top of my heart – and head.


The commonplace, “when I say ‘I’ I mean we; and when I say ‘we’ I mean they”, could not be more true than for my work at MIT.  I could spend this whole afternoon -- and the rest of the week -- listing all the people who deserve my thanks.  I hope you all know who you are!


Even so, I can’t let this event pass without expressing gratitude to just a few of those who worked most closely with me:

First and foremost, Rafael Reif, who served as my steadfast provost; whose devotion to MIT made him my most important guide. Rafael’s integrity, his knowledge of and commitment to the Institute served me and continue to serve MIT exceedingly well.

Terry Stone, MIT’s EVP and Treasurer, infinitely wise in all domains, guided finances through good times and bad, and choreographed the future of our campus.  Sherwin Greenblatt preceded and Israel Ruiz followed her in guiding campus operations, finances and planning.

Greg Morgan had the courage to take on the role of MIT’s first general counsel, magnificently designing a new skillset for MIT.

Jeff Newton and Barbara Stowe led our enormously successful fundraising (even without a comprehensive campaign).

Phil Clay and Eric Grimson, chancellors who amplified student academic and living opportunities.

Seth Alexander, whose careful stewardship of the MIT investment portfolio allows us to do much more than would otherwise have been possible.

Kathryn Willmore and Kirk Kolenbrander helped organized my office and my days. 

Leslie Price, my amazing executive assistant, along with our always-welcoming colleagues in the president’s office.

The MIT Corporation and its chairs, Dana Mead, John Reed and Bob Millard, were constant sources of steady encouragement, guidance and an inexhaustible fount of wisdom.

My work often continued many mornings and evenings in my campus home at Gray House, where I relied on Kathryn LaFargue and Muriel Petranic to keep up with the steady flow of visitors – 125 events and more than 3,000 people each year.

And, most of all, I can never sufficiently thank my devoted husband, Tom Byrne, and our daughter, Elizabeth, for their willingness to share our lives with all of you.


Thank you to all!


It’s particularly meaningful to have this courtyard chosen as a legacy of my leadership.  Some of you likely still remember what this place looked like in 2004 when I arrived at MIT. The site was occupied by a parking lot, a bit crumbling around the edges, and surrounded by loading docks.  But, even then, the newly opened Ray and Maria Stata Center provided a hint of a different possible future. A direct line of sight between the Stata Center and the Koch Biology Building spoke to a very different 21st century campus. 


The David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research replaced the parking lot, and gave further expression of the emerging future, promising a growing convergence of biology with engineering.  The Koch Institute completed the perimeter of this space, but at that time, we weren’t thinking much about what this courtyard could be.


Today, we sit in what has become a vibrant gateway between MIT and Kendall Square, the highest density bioindustry cluster in the world.  This apex of the isosceles triangle of our campus perches MIT at a major crossroads of the biomedical, biopharmaceutical, MedTech industries and more.  MIT’s sister-neighbors, the Broad, Whitehead and Ragon Institutes extend our intellectual and geographic connections into Kendall.


As you enter this courtyard from the corner of Ames and Main streets, MIT’s great, iconic dome welcomes you to, in the words of Paul Gray, one of my predecessor presidents, “this special place.”  The criss-crossing walkways (now covered by this small village of tents, thanks to Gayle Gallagher and her amazing team) are always busy with traffic -- on foot, bicycles, scooters, baby carriages - reflecting MIT in action.  The walkways link buildings, departments, schools and disciplines, and facilitate one of MIT’s signature promises: “Turning footpaths of collaboration into superhighways.” 


MIT’s intellectual commerce represents for me the university’s central purpose: to catalyze conversations and collaborations.  Through the active contest of ideas, we invent a better future.  And we can get to that better future only if we succeed in including lots of different voices, including those who might raise their voices in protest today.  I recognize that today’s dedication happens during a difficult time for MIT.  If we include a wide range of different perspectives in the ongoing conversation and debate, we will, I trust, move the Institute in a wise direction.


Catalyzing cross currents and collaborations as MIT’s president was an inordinate privilege and the most intensive educational experience of my life. And – need I say? -- as the first woman --  and first life scientist to serve as president, I felt a particular responsibility for paving new paths and setting new directions that would be welcoming to all.  Earlier this week, in announcing a new fund to address gender inequities, Melinda Gates observed that “A window of opportunity has opened…[but] there is no reason to believe this moment will last forever—or that this window will stay open as long as we need it to.” I have confidence that MIT will continue to open, and hold open, new windows of opportunity, so that, as I said when I was first elected to MIT’s presidency, MIT can be “the dream of every child who wants to make the world a better place ...  And also the dream of every engineer, scientist, scholar and artist, who draws inspiration from the idea of working in a hotbed of innovation, in service to humankind.”


I offer infinite thanks for celebrating my service, but even more importantly, for the great joy of working together to invent a better future.