President Reif's Charge to the Graduates 2013

Friday, June 7, 2013

As prepared for delivery

To the graduates of 2013: Congratulations! I know I am the last thing standing between you and your diplomas – so, even though I have a great deal I want to tell you, I will be brief. To everyone who has come here this morning to celebrate the graduates of 2013 – welcome to MIT! And to the parents and families of today's graduates – congratulations to you as well! It is great to have you all here on Killian Court on this wonderful day, for this tremendously important occasion.

(The last time I was out here with a big group of people, we were having a huge snowball fight. I know that many members of the class of 2013 were part of it. To those of you who got me wet: This is my revenge! I personally invite you to come back next winter, and I promise you a healthy rematch.)

I am told that, before we let you graduate, I am expected to give our graduating class a "charge." That sounds to me like one last problem set MIT is giving you. All of you! That is quite a fun challenge. I am also told not to worry too much about what I am telling you, as you are likely to forget whatever I say two seconds after I am done. So that is yet another fun challenge I am eager to take on.

Let me start by welcoming you, again, to the MIT family — even though you joined our family the moment you registered as an MIT student for the very first time.

And this is no ordinary family. First of all, the MIT family is BIG. Its core members include MIT's 127,000 alumni, worldwide (...including the ones over there in their colorful red jackets.) Our MIT family also includes the remarkable members, past and present, of the MIT faculty; and our students, post docs and staff.

Now, as you all know, this is not a family that you are born into – you have to earn being a member of our family. And our big family opens its arms to all those who are committed and dedicated to MIT's mission, principles and values.

This family you chose to join years ago has been BUSY: Over the years, members of the MIT family have been awarded the Nobel prize... 78 times. That is over 9% of all Nobel prizes ever awarded. There are only three countries with more Nobel prizes than the MIT family: the US, the UK and Germany.

Also, at last count, living MIT alumni have founded about 26,000 active companies. (That's one company for every 5 living graduates!) Those companies provide jobs for 3.3 million people. And they produce 2 trillion dollars in global revenues. (And that was before Dropbox.)

I don't have to tell you that our big MIT family likes to do big things. This family is ambitious. Incredibly, beautifully, disruptively ambitious. There is simply no place like MIT.

Our great family embraces many styles and personalities. I have met many of you, the graduates of 2013, in the last few years. When I have asked you: What is it that you like the most about MIT? You have answered: "Each other." You have also told me that you did not know, until you got to MIT, that "Smartness comes in so many different ways."

So you know MIT, and you know each other, very well. And you know that we all share some deep values: A commitment to excellence. Integrity. Meritocracy. An open spirit of collaboration. A strong desire to make a positive impact. And a sense of responsibility to make the world a better place.

In fact, Mr. Sal Khan, one of our very accomplished graduates and last year's Commencement Speaker, came back here to visit this spring. And he explained that he can always spot someone from MIT, even without checking for a Brass Rat. Because, he said, when you tell them that some problem is impossible ... their eyes light up.

That is you. That is MIT.

The MIT family is famous for all these things. World famous. As you go out into the world, you may find that these "family characteristics" set you apart. They will make you different. And I believe they will serve you very well.

As you leave us today, however, I want you to appreciate another side of our MIT family, too. It came into focus for me this year, like never before. I began to notice it last fall, when a student named Lydia K. published a blog that captured the attention of the campus. She described an intense period of sadness and self-doubt – and hundreds of MIT students reached out to her in support. I saw this side of MIT after the Boston Marathon attack. I got letters from total strangers who had fled the bombing site and stumbled into our fraternities and sororities in Boston. And they felt compelled to write because they were so moved by our students' generosity and kindness. I also saw this other aspect of MIT in the great wave of support and sympathy across our community for everyone affected by the Boston Marathon attack. Then a few days later, the tragedy of the Marathon bombing arrived at our own campus. And the whole world saw what I saw: the extraordinary outpouring of respect and gratitude for our beloved MIT Police. And the loving sympathy that flowed from the heart of this family ... to the family of Officer Sean Collier.

I have never felt so proud to be part of MIT.

Today, I can tell you for certain that the world will respect you for what you know. And for what you know how to do. But I also want the family of MIT to be famous for how we treat people: Famous for sympathy, humility, decency, respect and kindness.

I am certain that, no matter what I say, you will take on important problems. I am certain that each of you will, in your own way, honor the great privilege we all share in being here.

And I am certain you will use what you have learned — in your labs and classrooms, in your living groups, on the playing fields, in your activities, and in late-night conversations with friends — I am certain you will use what you have learned here to make the world a better place.

Yet, I want to "charge" you to do something else, too. (This is your last problem set!)

As you go out into society, I want you to change the source code. Rewire the circuits. Rearrange the molecules. Reformulate the equation. In short, I want you to hack the world ... until you make the world a little more like MIT. More daring and more passionate. More rigorous, inventive and ambitious. More humble, more respectful, more generous and more kind. (If Sal Khan were here, he would advise me to tell you that this is impossible.) On this wonderful day, I am proud of all of you, as I know you are ready.

So now go out there. Join the world. Find your calling! Solve the unsolvable! Shape the future! Take the high road! And you will continue to make your family, including your MIT family, proud.

To the graduating class of 2013. My first class. Congratulations!