W97 Theater Arts Building Dedication

Thursday, November 16, 2017

As prepared for delivery

Thank you, Marcus. And good evening! It’s not often that I get to deliver remarks from behind a music stand.  If, all of a sudden, I pretend to conduct while I am speaking, just humor me.

I am delighted to be with you as we dedicate this truly beautiful space.

Tonight is very much a celebration of the present and the future: this building will provide a vibrant, unique home for our theater arts community and for generations of performers to come. 

But I want to take a moment to look back, because many of you have traveled the long and winding road to W97 alongside us.

Above the desk in my office hangs a large portrait of MIT’s 13th president, Jerry Wiesner. 

Jerry was a brilliant electrical engineer, a tireless public servant and an intellectual giant.  

He was also a humanist.  He took deep pleasure in understanding human beings and human culture.  And he cared passionately about the world around him.

Personally, Jerry loved music and art.  He pretty much brought the arts to MIT. 

Almost as soon as he became president, he launched the Council for the Arts, an expression of his vision for a vital creative bond between the arts and MIT.

Jerry understood better than anyone that the arts are not something you do when you need a break from your p-sets.  They are not an add-on to a world-class technical education. Jerry understood that the arts are critical to the MIT experience. That they complement scientific exploration.  And they give our students the tools they need to succeed, not simply as scientists or engineers or managers or designers but as informed contributors to society as citizens.

Jerry would be smiling one of his wry, sideways grins if he were here tonight because he would recognize the role this space will play in advancing his vision and fulfilling the Institute’s mission.  That makes me enormously proud.

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Before I invite Professor Jay Scheib and two of our talented students forward, I want to return for a moment to Marcus’s introduction of himself as an Institute Professor.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the title, Institute Professor signifies excellence of the first order. It is MIT’s highest faculty honor, one we don’t bestow lightly.

There are only 13 Institute Professors at MIT, out of over 1,000 faculty. Our Institute professors include legendary faculty like Sheila Widnall, Phil Sharp and Bob Langer. Of those 13 Institute Professors, two are in Music: Marcus Thompson and composer John Harbison, who’s with us this evening.

Think about that for a moment: About 15% of MIT’s Institute Professors are in our Music program. Only EECS has more.

As we celebrate this beautiful new home for MIT’s exceptional theater arts community, let us imagine an equally beautiful home for our equally exceptional music community.

We’re already seeing how this space is supporting our faculty and the 800 undergraduates who take theater arts classes every year. 

For our music faculty and students, I have every reason to believe that a building like this would be transformative, too.

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Now, to Jay Scheib, Sara Brown and everyone who had a hand in making this wonderful space, I say a profound and sincere “Thank you.”  

My thanks, also, to Alan Brody and Janet Sonenberg, who worked tirelessly for many years to help make a facility like this a reality.

And to the students, faculty and staff of MIT Theater and Performing Arts, I say simply “Welcome home.”

I am delighted to turn the program over to Jay and two of our outstanding students: senior Tal Scully and junior Hunter Richardson.