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MIT Graduate Inspires Crowd with Life Experience

By Rima A. Arnaout
Staff Reporter

Continuing what hopes to be an annual tradition, the Class of 2001 sponsored its Thanksgiving event and desert buffet featuring author, aerospace engineer, and Brad Pitt stand-in Steven Altes '84.

Over 250 students showed up at the event held in Walker Memorial on Nov. 23.

The first Thanksgiving event last year featured Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich. Schmich's column about graduating from college gained fame through the Internet for being passed on as a commencement speech to MIT graduates made by Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut has never spoken at an MITcommencement.

Altes' speech, entitled "Novaphilia," provided students with humorous advice about building a career - or lack thereof.

Altes learned "not to put all your career eggs in one basket" when he lost his dream job at the CIA after one day. The reason, he said, was classified information.

In his speech, he asked students not to take building their careers too seriously and used his life experiences to point to several theories on life:

The Spaghetti Theory: "If you throw enough spaghetti against the wall, some of it's bound to stick."

The Blackjack Theory: "Getting an MIT degree is a lot like being dealt a 17 in blackjack. The odds say stand.' But once in a while, defy chance and say hit me.'"

Risk is a Muscle Theory: "Risk is a muscle. And like a muscle it must be exercised or else it will atrophy."

Reactions to the speech varied from wholehearted admiration to skepticism. Aaron D. Valade '00 liked that Altes "has been able to do whatever he wanted to do."

Tatiana Usova G, however, wondered whether Altes is "worried to come to the end of his life without having mastered any one thing."

Altes' speech did make students think about what kind of a career they do want, whether it be mastery of one thing or trying a bit of everything.

The audience concluded the Thanksgiving event evening by reading What is Success? by Ralph Waldo Emerson as a group and writing down their thoughts about the evening and their futures.

The sophomore class council then collected the letters in order to return them to students next year, so that they will remember their lives as they were a year before.

One student who attended last year's Thanksgiving event, Aimee L. Wiltz '99, said that Schmich's and Altes' speeches "were both inspirational, but different."

Julia C. Parsons '01, publicity chair for the sophomore class council, said that this year's Thanksgiving event was more successful because "there was more of a variety of people who showed up this year." Last year, she said, most of the attendees had had a role in creating the event.

Altes has varied history

Altes, who holds a S.B. in Aeronautics and Astronautics and an M.S. in both Aero/Astro and Public Policy, received the National Medal of Technology from President Bush in 1991 for working on Orbital Corporation's Pegasus project to develop the world's first privately developed space launch vehicle.

Altes turned from engineering to acting, modeling, and writing humorous accounts of his adventures. Among these are scuba diving, meeting Cindy Crawford, and making it into cabbie lore by being the first MIT graduate who was turned down when he applied for a job as a taxi driver.

Currently, Altes is working on a Columbia Pictures film, Random Hearts, starring Harrison Ford and Kristin Scott Thomas. Altes will play David, Scott Thomas' brother in the film.