Letters to MIT Community

Letter to the Community: MIT and Our Duty to the Future

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Over the course of the spring semester, we have celebrated MIT's 150th anniversary with a remarkable cascade of symposia, performances, exhibitions and landmark events. Thanks to the extraordinary, sustained, distributed effort of faculty, students, staff, alumni and friends, we told the story of MIT to the world – and to ourselves – more clearly and more confidently than it may have been told in decades.

When I arrived at MIT in the winter of 2005, the Institute was brimming with ideas and energy. But I also heard, in voices from across the Institute, a yearning for a greater sense of community and common purpose, a desire so striking that I called it out in my inaugural remarks:

"The world offers us limitless opportunities for important work. But for MIT to help build a better world, we must be able to build on the strength of our own community. We need to do everything we can to make sure that MIT becomes an even more inspiring, welcoming, and enriching place to work and to live. Community springs from shared experience. It grows out of values held deeply and in common. It cannot be manufactured on demand, but it can be fostered. That is our challenge now."

Through the shared experience of MIT150, we gained a fresh sense of the deep values we hold in common, and we recommitted ourselves to MIT's distinctive mission and motto. We have, as we hoped, turned the exploration of our past into fuel for our future. In the process, we have strengthened the foundations of community we need to face the challenges ahead, in service to the nation and the world.

With MIT's legacy of distinctive strengths comes a profound responsibility to use them. The activities of the semester have illuminated several important directions: We must apply our skills in interdisciplinary problem solving to the looming problems of the planet – clean energy and climate change, poverty and famine, the health of our oceans and the future of our cities – and strengthen our international network of collaborators to amplify our impact. We must deploy the historic convergence of the life, physical and engineering sciences as a catalyst for new solutions – from health care to clean energy to new manufacturing – that will also help stimulate economic growth. We must help bring intelligence to information; pioneer new connections between technology, culture and the arts; and develop financial models to make our economies more resilient and less inequitable.

At a time when the world urgently needs more people who understand science and engineering, we must extend the power of hands-on, problem-based learning to students around the globe, even as we explore new models to enhance residential education. And, above all, to continue to fuel the future, we must stay hungry for exploration, from mathematics to music to the moon. Resolutely reaching toward the unknown is prologue to every important practical advance; it is also among the supreme expressions of the human spirit and the driving impulse behind all our work at MIT.

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Officially, this spring's celebrations end ten days from now, on the evening of June 4th, when "Toast to Tech" will light up Killian Court. I am confident that the brilliant, confident spirit of MIT150 will animate MIT for a long time to come – raising our ambitions, sparking new collaborations and inspiring a new generation of young people to help us invent the future.

The remarkable events and ethos of the Sesquicentennial celebration sprang from the minds and hands of hundreds of people, inspired by the inclusive leadership of Professor David Mindell, PhD '96, chair of the MIT150 Steering Committee, and Gayle Gallagher, Senior Director of Institute Events. On behalf of MIT, I offer them and everyone who played a part in these celebrations a most enthusiastic thank you.


Susan Hockfield


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