President Reif's Charge to the Graduates 2017

Friday, June 9, 2017

As prepared for delivery

To the graduates of 2017:  Congratulations!  My job today is to deliver a “charge” to you and I will get to that in a minute. But first, I want to recognize the people who helped you charge this far!

To everyone who came here this morning to celebrate our graduates – welcome to MIT!

(For this next acknowledgment, I need your help. Right behind me, over my left shoulder, there’s a camera. In a moment, I’m going to ask all of you to wave to it, all right?)

Now I would like to offer a special greeting to all those who were not able to come to campus, but who are watching and cheering on today’s graduates, online, from locations all over the globe. We are very glad to have you with us, too! Now, all of you graduates, please cheer and wave!

And to the parents and families of today’s graduates, a huge “Congratulations” to you, as well!  For you, this day is the joyful result of years of loving support and sacrifice. Please accept our deep gratitude and admiration.


It is great to have all of you here on Killian Court, on this wonderful day, for this tremendously important occasion. In fact, this is such a solemn and serious ceremony that I thought you would not mind if we played a little game.

With a big shout-out to graduating senior Lilly Chin, I call this game “MIT Jeopardy 2017!”

You all know how Jeopardy works: I give the clues, and then you give the answers –
but in the form of questions. Let me give you a couple of examples, just to practice:

·      If the clue is, “This revolutionary gene-editing system shares its name with a drawer in your refrigerator,” you would say, “What is CRISPR?”

·      Next clue: “The vibrations from this phenomenon were so gigantic that they could be detected 3 billion light years away,” you would say, “What are the campus-wide dance parties?”

OK, you got it? Ready to play?

I expect you to answer the next one, loudly! So, listen closely! Here’s your clue:

·      “This school in Cambridge, Massachusetts, may in fact be the world’s greatest university.”  Answer: “What is MIT!”

·      OK, one more: If the clue is, “This field of study is known for enrolling all of the smartest students at MIT,” obviously the answer would be, “Course _____”

No, no, no! I’m not going there! Big mistake! Wrong clue!


Now, if the clue is, “This brave and brilliant man is the current CEO of Apple” you might be tempted to say, “Who is Tim Cook?”

But without question, the best answer would be “Who is the spiciest memelord?”

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I was very impressed by Tim’s remarks this morning.  I expect you were, too. Over the last few years, he has taken bold public positions on key issues on free speech, gay rights, the right to privacy, the need for action on climate change and more.

In doing so, I believe he is setting a tremendous example of what it means to be a citizen and a leader.  And I’m deeply grateful to have Tim with us today.

But, when we first invited Tim to speak at Commencement, I tried to talk him into doing something a little different.

I said, ‘Tim, it’s perfect! MIT Commencement is on a Friday! You always release your new phones on a Friday!”

“So how about releasing the iPhone 8?”

Tim did not bite.

But the truth is, today, I am the one presiding over the release of a mind-blowing new product.

This product is a limited edition – and it’s extremely personalized. In fact, it comes in more than 2,800 varieties. And let me tell you, when you line them up together they make an impressive and beautiful display. You do make an impressive and beautiful display!

The operating system for our latest product is amazing! It has unmatched processing ability and built-in memory.  I know because we have tested it – over and over and over!

And Tim, I have to point out that our product already has 3D-sensing facial recognition!

At MIT, we know that our product “can do extraordinary things” that “we never thought possible before today.”

From experience, we know that people are willing to pay a tremendous amount for this product. And that is really no surprise, because – as I am very proud to tell you – the product we launch today has an unlimited capacity to augment reality, to make a better world.

There are rumors that the iPhone 8 may no longer have a “home” button. But those of you who receive your degrees today certainly do right here [pats heart] – and I hope that it will always bring you back – to your home at MIT.

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Now, before you get those diplomas, allow me to demonstrate your capacity for wireless charging. 

I have no doubt that the creativity of this group-of-graduates will be the source of new products, new capabilities, new discoveries, new designs, new organizations ­– and whole new industries.

We should not be surprised if some of those new concepts are deeply disruptive. Disrupting old systems and assumptions can be a very good idea. But it can also have a great human cost.

And I believe that, as members of this “institute of technology,” thinking about this human question is very much our business, too. It is not something we can leave for “other people” to figure out. And it’s a question where we may need to do more listening than talking for quite a while.

So, I want to leave you with this thought:

At MIT, our mission guides us to advance knowledge, to educate students and to bring knowledge to bear on the world’s great challenges. As a result, we are driven and motivated to work on big problems. And we like to solve them, in part, by developing new technologies.

But the truth is that one of today’s great challenges is how to help society navigate the unintended impact of technology itself.

So, as you work together to conjure new ideas, to invent new products, to design new ways to manufacture them and to devise new ways to use them in the world, I hope you will consider their impact on all of society, right from the start.

If you can make this assessment not an afterthought, but a first concern, you will contribute to solving one of the deepest and most difficult challenges of our time.

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During the time you have spent on our campus, the fabric of our society has experienced many serious strains.  So I am very grateful that on this campus, the last few years have also seen a new blossoming of community, and of deliberate efforts to cultivate connection and compassion, and shared progress, with shared joy.

That feeling of connection and unity has a great deal to do with the example and ideas and leadership of those of you who graduate today. And that is what gives me the confidence to deliver my charge to you.

Now, I’m going to use a word that feels very comfortable at MIT, although it has taken on a troubling new meaning elsewhere in the world. But I know that our graduates will know what I mean.

After you depart for your new destinations, I want to ask 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, more kind. 

This morning, I see more than 2,800 new graduates who are ready for that lifelong problem-set. You made MIT better. And you will make a better world.

You came to MIT with exceptional qualities of your own. And now you leave us, equipped with a rare set of skills, and steeped in this community’s deepest values: A commitment to excellence. Integrity. Meritocracy. Boldness. Humility. 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.

I hope you will take your MIT values with you. And I hope you will always take time to listen to the world – because that is the secret of making yourselves the finest human beings, and the most magnificent “MIT products,” that you can be. And because I also see a planet that urgently needs everything you have to offer.

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

On this wonderful day, I am proud of all of you. To every one of the members of the graduating Class of 2017: Please accept my best wishes for a happy and successful life and career.  Congratulations!