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Godfrey Emphasizes Challenges Ahead

The following is the speec delivered by Undergraduate Association President Hans C. Godfrey '93 at the President's Convocation yesterday. The text of the speech was provided by Godfrey.

On behalf of the undergraduate student body, welcome to MIT, our concrete paradise by the Charles! Thousands of us have been eagerly awaiting your arrival and you should prepare yourselves to experience one of the more interesting episodes of your lives. You have arrived in Cambridge at a time unique not only to MIT but to the world at large. Like the world, MIT is in a period of transition which will present great challenges for every member of our community -- especially you. These challenges and changes are what I'd like to talk to you about today.

When I came to MIT in August of 1989, four long, grueling years ago, the world was a much different place. The Cold War was still in full swing and very few people would have believed that the Soviet Union was nearing collapse. Despite the anxieties and fear created by the Cold War, the world (and particularly MIT) was ironically a much more certain and dependable place -- in large part because funding from the defense department was plentiful and steady. Now, on the other hand, MIT must expend a great deal of energy defending itself from the federal government -- at one time one of its staunchest allies. Today's world is much more complicated -- and therefore more complicated for MIT -- and as a result your individual futures -- like that of MIT -- have become much more uncertain.

Although the world is no longer as dangerous a place to live in, it still has many problems that loom larger than ever. Today the world is confronted with the challenges of nations redefining themselves after the Cold War, how to confront human rights issues in Bosnia and elsewhere, how to reinvigorate the world economy and how to protect the environment. Like the global community, MIT has no lack of its own challenges and problems, and now you as its newest members have inherited them -- let me tell you about a few.

During the last fiscal year, the Institute posted a deficit of over $20 million -- a problem that will almost certainly require fiscal sacrifices across the board -- including student services. You and your parents will soon (if not already) become familiar with deficits and sacrifices of another sort -- the personal and family ones required to finance an education whose price continues to sky-rocket. And what are you getting for your money? You are paying for a faculty (with all due respect) who are regularly described as uninterested in undergraduate teaching -- and not responsive to the often rigorous pressures of undergraduate academic life. Undergraduate student life is filled with a host of problems all its own. Housing annually presents a crisis -- whether it be the problem of not enough or the question of who will decide how freshman will be housed. And how many times a week can you eat "Chicken Supreme" at Lobdell (actually with a little bit of salt it's not too bad)? Week -- after week -- after week, the "Chicken Supreme" is always the same -- somewhat like the Institute, which has a reputation for being monolithic and bureaucratic. Unfortunately not all problems at MIT can be fixed with a little salt: poor race relations within our community is one of those things that doesn't seem to be improving as quickly as we'd like; and although race relations on our campus are in general better than in the rest of society, tolerance of a diversity of cultures and ideas is a conviction to which we should all subscribe -- whether in the academic community of MIT, or in the greater community in which you will shape the future.

The future -- your future -- lies ahead; and even with its problems, I can think of no better place to prepare you than MIT. The problems I mentioned earlier may at times prove daunting. The urge to shrug and say, "I can't do anything about it." may prove to be overwhelming at times; but you must not allow yourselves to become apathetic to the situations around you. In every disaster or crisis there is always an opportunity to make progress despite the odds and adversity. Every situation can be a learning experience and the problems of which I've spoken present tremendous opportunities to not only develop yourselves personally, but to improve the community well after you've left it.

Let's talk about the personal challenges you'll face here. As Dr. Vest stated there is no doubt that MIT is one of the premier academic institutions in the world and your presence here is by no means a mistake. You have been given a great chance prove just how good you are. I not only challenge you to take advantage of the almost limitless curricular and extracurricular opportunities on campus, I want you to exploit every last resource that this place has to offer. I want you as individuals to not only do the expected academic workload, but I want you to get out there meet your classmates, join activities outside of your living group, schmooze with your professors, and who knows, someday it might be you up here giving hell to 1100 freshman.

However, personal development cannot be your sole goal. More than ever before we are a part of a global community, and the differences that separate us are fast become irrelevant. You might as well realize this now rather than later and work towards building unity -- first within your class and later in the MIT community. Your immediate predecessors, the Class of 1996, were one of the most enthusiastic classes anyone has seen in a long time. But they're old and soft now -- they're sophomores. They're out of shape and you're on pass/ no record -- you can take 'em. I challenge you to accept the responsibility as a group to take on the leadership role, especially from dinosaurs like me, and take this place beyond any vision that I, the faculty, or the administration could ever establish. Remember, the faculty may be the heart of MIT, they keep the place going, but you as students are its soul, you are the Institute's inspiration. Oh, what about the administration? The administration is MIT's spleen -- you don't necessarily need the spleen but it helps to have one.

Alright, enough anatomy -- and back to challenges. Everything you've done in life has led to your being here right now. It's now time for you to put your high school experiences behind you and get a fresh start. Don't forget where you came from, but you can forget your SAT score. You are all more than worthy enough to be here, now prove to yourself that you are worthy enough to stay here. There will be many obstacles that you will have to overcome here and not everyone's goal is to help you. Most of you will probably make it through MIT with very few problems but for those of you who do run into trouble along the way don't hesitate to get help. The administration, especially the Dean's Office, is there to help you and if you're not satisfied with that you can bring your problems to Hans and I'll do my damn best to make sure that something is done for you and not to you.

When Dr. Vest speaks to you (and possibly me) at Commencement on June 1, 1997, he will give you his charge to graduates. Today, I want to take the liberty of giving you a charge: with high school a distant memory, look ahead to the future. Seize every opportunity -- academic or otherwise -- and let your passion for excellence make a difference in the future -- your future and MIT's future. As individuals and together as a class, it is your turn to challenge and be challenged. Again, welcome to MIT.

Thank you and good luck.