President Hockfield's Charge to the Graduates

Friday, June 8, 2007
MIT's 141st Commencement

I want to speak to those of you graduating today about your path here at MIT and the path that leads from MIT into the world. Of course, before you arrived at MIT, each ofyou had already demonstrated significant talents – that is why we invited you to join our community. Once you arrived here you took up MIT's challenges, and – working, I am certain, harder than you ever have before – you have taken your academic accomplishments to new levels. Today's ceremony is our community's expression of our pride in what you have achieved.

Our appreciation of your accomplishments would be far too narrow if it included only your academic successes. Beyond the classroom and the laboratory, you have also excelled on the stage and on the playing field, in service projects and in entrepreneurship. And, what is perhaps most important, you have also begun to distinguish yourselves as leaders.

MIT itself has a deep commitment to leadership, demonstrated time and again, in myriad ways:

  • In the foundational science that led to the new targeted cancer therapies, Gleevec for leukemia and Herceptin for breast cancer.
  • In innovative plans to rebuild devastated New Orleans neighborhoods.
  • In countless businesses, from startups in Kendall Square to industry giants across the technology landscape.
  • In fresh approaches to meeting the world's energy needs, including new technologies for energy storage and for solar energy conversion.
  • And in novel uses of technology to convey the immortal truths of the humanities.

And in many different ways – from the UPOP program to the $100K competition, from 2.007 to the Public Service Center – our goal has been to teach you how to become leaders yourselves.

We have done this, graduates of MIT, because the world today needs your leadership. We need your leadership as we face the challenges of an increasingly complex and interdependent world. And we need your leadership to develop new ways to bridge old divides--not only between peoples and nations, but also between technology and policy. MIT's enduring motto, "Mens et Manus" – "Mind and Hand" – is a reminder that leadership in the modern world depends critically on integrating across different perspectives for the common good.

From one point of view, the leadership we call you to assume today might appear to be an obligation, perhaps a burden. But that would be a grave mistake. Leadership is a privilege and it is a joy. And I can assure you that in using your talents to serve others, you will find the most enduring of personal satisfactions.

Even as you leave this place to become your generation's leaders, you will remain members of this community. At the close of this morning's ceremony, Martin Tang, the President of the Alumni Association, will formally welcome you into the Association's membership. And we hope that your lives will be enriched by an ongoing connection to the Institute.

And it is my fervent hope, that as you join new communities, you will transmit to them the values that define the MIT community. That you will make integrity the touchstone of your judgments. That you will exemplify the pursuit of truth and an unwavering drive for excellence. And that you will continue to demonstrate the value of good, old-fashioned hard work.

Beyond these great aspirations for you, I make a more pressing request: I ask of you to inspire your own generation and the generations to come with a renewed sense of optimism for the future.

MIT's founding vision was both practical and idealistic in its insistence that our work must, as engraved across the frieze of Lobby 7, advance "industry, the arts, agriculture, and commerce." That optimism for a better future has made MIT a beacon visible the world over. This weekend, we will celebrate MIT's optimism for the future by reigniting one of our most powerful symbols. After the late summer sunset tomorrow evening, for the first time in more than three decades, we will fully re-light the great dome.

The lighting of the dome signals the importance of what we do. Here at MIT, we see up close, every day, the countless ways that science and technology benefit humankind. But if we are to realize our optimism, we need to kindle in others the same love and passion for truth and discovery, for creativity and problem-solving, that brought us all here. I hope that each of you will embrace this challenge as your own – that you will let your light shine out to illuminate the paths for others.

I would not set you this challenge if I did not think, and truly believe, that you could meet it. I have tremendous faith in you. Your intelligence, your dedication, and your creativity have inspired us during your time here. And I know that in the years to come you will do even more – and surprise and delight us with your further achievements.

For your accomplishments here at MIT, I offer you my heartfelt congratulations, graduates of MIT!