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Dealing with other after MIT

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Column/Joaquin Tinio

It is not enough that you should understand about applied science in order that your work may increase man's blessings. Concern for man himself and his fate must always form the chief interests of all technical endeavors ... in order that the creations of our mind shall be a blessing and not a curse to mankind. -- Albert Einstein.

In a few short weeks approximately 1500 graduate and undergraduate students of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will march into Killian Court to receive their diplomas. It will be a warm and beautiful June day as the family and friends of the Class of '85 peer anxiously at the long procession of black-robed figures, hoping to catch a glimpse of their sons and daughters. Time will seem to stand still in this special arena, framed by majestic walls and the open sky.

Amid the chirping of curious birds, the clicking of Nikons and the humming strains of "Pomp and Circumstance," names will be called out one by one. A handshake from the President. The diploma. A smile. An exhilarating feeling of triumph from having achieved the unachievable (or so we thought). It will seem like only yesterday that we were sitting cross-legged on the grass on a warm August afternoon, eating greasy fried chicken, chatting awkwardly with fellow freshmen. We listened to speeches from Paul Gray, Shirley McBay and a man named Peter H. Richardson who exhorted us to be careful and always look both ways before crossing Massachusetts Avenue.

We've since crossed Mass. Ave. many, many times and now eagerly await that milestone in our lives called Graduation Day. We leave behind four years of mindbending toil and innumerable sleepless nights as we look down the road to a Ph.D. or M.D. and, eventually, a prestigious and high-paying position at General Motors, Hughes Aircraft, IBM, a national laboratory, a research university. Having joined the ranks of that legendary band of survivors called MIT alumni, we will be counted among America's elite, members of a sort of modern day aristocracy. Young. Wealthy. Powerful. We will be technologically competent in a world which finds itself increasingly governed by science and technology.

Back in December, Newsweek ran a cover story on that band of baby-boomers known as Yuppies. The article was far from complimentary. Without exception, the young, upwardly mobile professionals who marched across the pages of Newsweek were portrayed as acquistive, greedy and self-indulgent. The worst was a 28-year-old California lawyer who said she buys two outfits a week and would be happy with $200,000 a year -- until she has children. The '80s have become the Age of Reagan, the conservative era of the Me Generation, and the Yuppies have become a metaphor for national selfishness and greed.

Will the Class of '85 become a new generation of Yuppies, one-dimensional technocrats who strive for riches but lack any sense of social responsibility? No. The Admissions Office continually strives to select intelligent, mature and well-rounded men and women. Although some of us may appear to be otherwise, all of us are, with few exceptions, basically decent, responsible individuals.

We grew up in the '70s in the middle of high inflation, oil-price increases and periodic recessions. We watched the long lines at unemployment offices all around the country on the evening news. All at once, the simple act of graduating from college and landing a well-paying job became everyone's number one priority. This is the main reason we chose to attend MIT. But our seemingly fanatical efforts to succeed here and land a well-paying job don't necessarily imply selfishness or greed. They simply reflect tougher economic times.

It seems unfortunate, then, that MIT should do so much to prepare us for a position in the lucrative world of high-tech, but so little to prepare us for the heavy burden of responsibility that such a position brings. Everyone knows that MIT is not a place in which to heighten one's social awareness. One doesn't reflect too deeply on arms control and world hunger when exams, lab reports and problem sets loom in the distance. As we approach graduation, our non-scientific concerns have been suppressed under the heavy weight of academic demands. Here, then, is a reminder of some things that we already know (or should know), things that MIT tries its best to make us forget:

Be altruistic. A recent study revealed that the rich in America are donating less and less to charities. You'll be making buckets of money, so pick a charity and contribute to it regualarly.

When the MIT Alumni Association solicits donations from you, give generously. Most of us were able to attend MIT only through the generosity of MIT alumni, so do the same favor for a future MIT student. Besides, it's tax deductible, and personally, I'd rather give my money to a needy MIT student than to the IRS. Give, give, give.

Avoid prejudice. Get to know someone before judging his merits. People aren't always what they seem to be.

Make sure that you can write well. Take writing courses if you have to. An engineer who can't express himself clearly on paper isn't much good to anyone.

Be humble. MIT produces a lot of heavy-hitters who feel that the fate of the world rests with their brains. While this may or may not be true, an MIT diploma is no proof of personal superiority. Everyone was born with different abilities. That alcoholic in Central Square is as much a human being as you are. Respect everyone. God gave you the talent and ambition to aspire, strive and succeed, and succeed you will. But don't let it take a toll on egotism.

Be actively concerned with the world. Elect a president who won't increase military spending at the expense of social welfare programs and education. Become involved in politics -- too many politicians have romantic, deluded visions of technology curing problems like the arms race.

We need more people in government who are technologically fluent. If at all possible, avoid working for the Defense Department. If you must, do a good job. A faulty weapons system is inherently more destabilizing than a fully operational one. Above all, strive to make the world a better and safer place for yourselves, your children and everybody else.

And one more thing -- be careful and always look both ways before crossing the street.