President Hockfield's Charge to the Graduates

Friday, June 3, 2011
Prepared Remarks for MIT's 145th Commencement

Those of you graduating today will receive many different degrees in a wide range of disciplines. But, even so, you are united, as our Sesquicentennial class. The MIT150 celebrations that began 148 days ago have described the earliest dreams of our founding and produced provocative, sometimes even luminous, visions of the future. We heard Nobel Laureate-studded panels discuss the frontiers of research, joined by participants from around the world, and in outer space. We celebrated remarkable achievements by members of this community from every background, and we renewed our commitment to strengthening our culture of inclusion. We opened our campus. We raced blimps, tested robots, scaled buildings, electrified pickles – and we saw the wonder reflected in the faces of thousands of children, who now want to be just like you.

This semester's celebrations have also reminded us that our first president, William Barton Rogers, launched MIT with an enduring set of values: the spirit of Mens et Manus, mind and hand – of useful work founded on the finest science and focused on real-world problems; a belief in the power of hands-on learning; and a commitment to meritocracy, rigor and service. From these principles, in 1861 Rogers forged a new kind of institution, and his new Institute would shape and inspire a new breed of thinkers, makers, doers, inventors and entrepreneurs such as the world had never seen before. People just like you.

The graduates who poured forth from MIT dramatically accelerated America's industrial progress; helped win a World War; made profound scientific discoveries; invented countless products and concepts that make people safer, healthier, more prosperous, more productive and more connected; designed exquisite buildings and thriving cities; founded whole new industries and launched thousands of business that employ millions of people around the globe.

In today's precarious world, the technical challenges that face you may look different or more daunting. But the essential challenge for each of you is the same, because it is still true that along with the distinctive strengths you gained from MIT comes a profound responsibility to use them. More urgently and in more fields than ever before, the world needs people with the skills and perspective you have gained at MIT: People ready to apply their 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 primed to build an international network of collaborators to amplify their impact. People eager to deploy the historic convergence of the life, physical and engineering sciences as a catalyst for new solutions, from health care to energy to new manufacturing, that will also help stimulate economic growth. People with the insight, integrity and creative brilliance to 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. People perpetually hungry for exploration, from mathematics to music to the moon – and people eager to teach what they know to the rising generations. This is the work we have prepared you for, and I hope that challenges like these will engage your brilliant minds and hands as you chart the path to lives of meaning, challenge and adventure.

Pouring over MIT's history, I have come to appreciate that, like the great Dome above us, the Institute as we know it did not just spring forth, fully formed: it rose slowly over time, through the aspirations and achievements of thousands of human beings. In fact, the Dome itself – this iconic symbol of the Institute – almost did not happen. By the standards of 1916, it was huge – larger than the dome of St. Paul's in London or the Capitol building in Washington, DC. And it was expensive; the limestone and the labor cost almost as much as MIT had spent to buy the land for its new campus here in Cambridge. But the Dome did rise, because MIT's then-President, Richard Maclaurin, insisted that the campus demanded a focal point, one that would lift our eyes and our aims to the sky, and beyond.

And so, graduates of MIT, as you go forth from Killian Court on this beautiful day, you will soon come to know what every MIT alumnus can tell you: that our Great Dome travels with you, no matter where you stand on the face of the Earth. MIT – in its steel-strong values and rousing mission of learning, discovery and service – will always be here, as foundation and as inspiration. Now is your moment to put its spirit and principles to work around the globe. For all that you have created, invented, explored and mastered at MIT – Congratulations, MIT graduates of 2011.