Graduates hear Barco and Gray
By Annabelle Boyd
The "recent, rapid, and irreversible" changes sweeping through Eastern Europe and Latin America dominated the speeches at MIT's 124th commencement on June 4.
Under sunny skies, 1712 students received degrees and were encouraged by speaker Virgilio Barco '43 "to open their eyes to a new world . . . beyond the myopia of the Cold War, a world where economic growth and technological innovation will be of critical importance."
Barco, who is president of Colombia, touched on several issues he felt were vital to "North-South" relations: the environment, the continued prevalence of free market economies, the reduction of defense spending by the superpowers, and the obligation of First World nations to their struggling Third World neighbors.
Barco likened his graduation from MIT in 1943 to that of the class of 1990. "So much was happening in the world . . . No one was sure what tomorrow would bring. All of this must seem strangely familiar to each of you with the rapid rate of change in Europe and around the world.''
Barco related his belief that "a strong foundation in the humanities, economics, and technology" is the "key" to managing change. "Now these enormously powerful tools of change rest in your hands, and the fate of future generations depends on your ability to put to good use all that
you have learned," he told the graduates.
Barco also addressed the "global celebration of democracy." He urged the graduates to recognize that the "tide of democracy" was not only flowing through Europe, but Latin America as well.
"Ten years ago, most countries of Latin America suffered under the weight of dictatorships. Just look at the change. Peru returned to democracy in 1980, Bolivia in 1982, Argentina in 193, Brazil in 1985, Chile, Nicaragua, and Panama in the last year alone.
Barco reminded the graduates of their obligation "to ensure
the fostering of global economic growth." He said this could best be achieved by "guaranteeing access of Latin America's democracies to economic prosperity and change."
In his closing, Barco urged the graduates to recognize their "special responsibility."
"As you look to the future, I ask one thing: do not let today's flowering democracies wither on the vine. Extend your arms to those who have for too long lived in oppression, in fear and in poverty. Like all newborns, these infant democracies around the world may at times falter and stumble, hesitantly trying their first steps. Yet they must prevail. This is our first duty. All of us, especially you here in the United States, now have the opportunity to build in peace what is often unavailable by force. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that this opportunity does not pass us by."
Paul E. Gray '54, in his last commencement address as president, also discussed the collapse of the Soviet empire and transformations occurring in Europe.
"These changes were conceived in the irrepressible human striving for freedom of thought and action, for political self-determination, and for ethnic and spiritual identity and respect. And they were borne of the extraordinary failures of the command-and-control model of state socialism," Gray said.
The destruction of the environment and the development of a global economy were stressed
by Gray as vital in this newly-founded world of democracy.
"Stateless corporations, whose research, development, manufacturing, and marketing activities transcend national boundaries, are on the rise, And as they grow, they -- and the changes that they generate -- will influence national structures and organizations, will challenge long-held cultural attitudes and beliefs, and will place a premium on the ability
to think and act in transnational dimensions," Gray told the graduates.
In dealing with the rapidly unfolding future, Gray urged graduates to be flexible. "Without the inclination and ability to be flexible, to be open to new ideas and changing times, to adapt and grow -- in short, to learn -- we become trapped. Trapped by outdated ideas, by the fear of difference, or of change -- trapped in prisons of our own making. The key to that prison is an open mind, an honest intellect and a courageous and compassionate heart."
Gray and Provost John M. Deutch '61 presented 1883 degrees -- 958 bachelor of science degrees and 925 advanced degrees. The degree recipients included 503 women. The advanced degrees consisted of 195 doctorates, 707 master's degrees, and 23 engineer degrees.
Several graduates adorned their gowns with yellow and green ribbons, signifying their support for the African National Congress and their desire for MIT to divest. Other students taped the words "divest now!" to their caps. The Coalition Against Apartheid carried a black coffin and banged a drum in protest of MIT's involvement with businesses involved in South Africa.
Senior class president Joseph R. Babiec Jr. '90 presented Gray with $16,000 for the clock tower to be constructed in the Julius
A. Stratton '27 student center building.