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Husain Offers Cheek, Pom-Poms for Commencement

Column by A. Arif Husain
Columnist

It was a long ride from the airport but a bit shorter than Iremembered. Every T train arrived with perfect timing, so it passed quickly, but my overstuffed suitcase made the walk from Kendall to west campus a hefty workout. The air was chilly, and the night was dark, but all cliche aside, it really was good to be back on campus.

Pop bitterness over the years has held that MITis a place better to be from than at. In a way, my last four months away from campus has made me agree. When the job quest took me from office to office in research labs from coast to coast, those three little letters were invariably received with a, "Great, please have a seat," and, on occasion, with a, "When would you like to start."

But agreeing with the aphorism doesn't prevent me from recognizing that some hindsight is useful in getting a better picture of the way things were. From where Istand, I really do expect to miss MIT life, for better or for worse. Limiting my nostalgia, it is perhaps the joy of being from this place that reshapes our memories of being at it, an altogether beneficial transformation.

So my point: Even if you hated every last minute of every course, seminar, recitation, exam, problem set, lab, project, or paper you ever spent time on, you'll probably still do okay when you look for a job. And if you end up being happy later in life, then you might even share some of the credit with the hallowed institution whose diploma certifies at least one of your collegiate degrees.

Unless of course you spent the last four years sucking foam out of a keg or sniffing paint thinner through a Bic Rollerball. In that case, I suggest you memorize two important phrases: "Would you like fries with that?" and also"Paper or plastic?"

At this point you're probably reading this text to escape the monotonic drone of names during the morning's commencement exercises. Or perhaps being civil and attentive graduates and visitors you are saving a browse through The Tech for the evening ride home. Or dare I say it, the headline to this column could easily have become visible through the rain soaked pages of the makeshift umbrella you used to make the somber trip from Killian Court to the Johnson Athletics Center.

In any of these cases, one thing remains the same. You are choosing to spend your time gathering information and acknowledging the opinions of others. You are searching, to some degree for answers, turning to The Tech and its opinion staff for assistance. To me, that is indicative of the inevitable question that is looming over many of our minds as graduates, and is perhaps most so on the minds of parents, family, and others who value our success and the security of their financial investments: "What are you going to do with that degree?"

For me that question is easy. I'm going to buy a really stylish frame and hang that puppy in my really non-stylish apartment. Maybe I'll scan it in and put it up on the Web some place. Or perhaps I'll have it printed onto a tablecloth or a T-shirt. If any of my peers involved in the graphic arts can help me get my diploma stuck on anything else, I'd be much obliged. Ties, underwear - hell, maybe Icould even get it on a mouse pad.

I don't apologize for being so flip about the whole matter because ultimately that ninety thousand dollar diploma really is just a shiny happy sheet of paper. If it serves you best as a blotter for your drafting table, then I say, more power to you. When you were here, you should have studied what interested you. If you didn't then that's a shame, but no reason to continue pursuing a career of boredom and disgust.

A few years down the road I'm going to have to ride in the cars some of you folks designed, rely on some of your electronics, and live in some of your buildings. The last thing we need is a ten thousand ton suspension bridge designed by a guy who'd rather be watching Happy Days re-runs than performing load tests. If for no one else, think about my children. We thank you in advance.

The last matter on my mind stems from my sympathies for international diplomacy and for my passionate belief that elected officials should answer the call of their constituents. As a member of the Class of 1997, it was a rare occasion that I took part in the political motions of my class or even that I could recognize that they were moving. So today, on this Commencement, I must humbly ask our president, Pardis C. Sabeti '97 to act on my behalf.

I don't really know Pardis, andI doubt she knows me, but in the true spirit of democracy, it's the little people who's voices must echo through the public officials who represent them. So, with that in mind, I am confident.

It was brought to my attention that Miss Sabeti will be the last speaker before United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan delivers the keynote address. This fact puts her in a good position to extend Mr. Annan a warm welcome on behalf of our class. You see, the Secretary General will be flying in directly from the Organization for African Unity conference in Zimbabwe. I'm guessing that it's a fairly taxing flight, even in a United Nations aircraft. Thus, I think it would be generous and worthwhile for Miss Sabeti to help Mr. Annan shed his jet lag and dazzle us with a vibrant and energetic keynote address.

First, he's got to have a PowerBar. Protein, carbs, and low in fat, it's just the thing to give a tired Secretary General a morning-lull boost. I recommend Mocha or Malt-Nut. Check www.powerbar.com for the nearest retailer.

Next, as a guy with just a touch of public speaking experience, Iknow that the worst thing to talk to is a passive, unresponsive audience. That's where the pom-poms come in. Miss Sabeti must lead us, as graduates, into the MIT Cheer. Yes, the e-to-the-u-du-dx, one. I've hated that thing for the five or so years that I've known of it, but on this last day Ithink it's just the thing to give Mr. Annan the needed audience orientation. Two or three times through, and maybe even a couple of originals (if Miss Sabeti feels creative) and I am certain that Mr. Annan's speech will be exceptionally received.

With that, I wish every graduate good luck and my hearty congratulations.

A. Arif Husain, former opinion editor of The Tech, is now living in Santa Monica, California. He denies all rumors regarding his tan lines.