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Goldin Delivers Commencement Address

Longtime Chief of NASA Urges Students to Seek Truth, Remember Galileo’s Example

By Jennifer Young


No one could have asked for a better Commencement day.

Sunshine, crystal blue skies, and the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey greeted 2,122 graduates as they gathered on Killian Court to receive their degrees Friday.

Daniel S. Goldin, administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Agency, opened his Commencement address by describing the dialogue he had with his wife when he received his invitation to speak at Commencement.

“She asked, ‘Do you really think you can compete with the president of the United States, the UN Secretary General, and Click and Clack, the guys from Car Talk?’”

Goldin acknowledged, “I might not be on the radio every Saturday morning. But I am a rocket scientist.”

He went on to explain that the unusual cap and robe he was wearing was the traditional garb of the University of Padua, from which he had received an honorary doctorate. “I'm not wearing it because I'm the victim of the latest MIT hack,” Goldin said. “At least not yet... I want to give you a visual image. You may not remember me, but perhaps you will remember the cap and gown.

“More than that, I hope that each and every one of you remembers Galileo,” Goldin added. “Not necessarily his lectures, but his lessons and his life.”

Goldin cited Galileo’s commitment to excellence, passion for learning, and drive for truth, and commended the “Galileos sitting in front of me, about to receive their well-earned degrees.

“Remain committed to learning. Settle for nothing less than excellence. Do not only seek truth. But believe in yourself. That way, you will find truth,” Goldin told the graduates.

GSC gift a surprise

The Graduate Student Council chose this year to give a the Institute parting gift. GSC Soulaymane Kachani began his address by commenting that he hoped “our sense of community will carry forth with us to help us effect change in our communities.”

He then presented a toy school bus, which President Charles M. Vest accepted with amusement. Kachani went on to explain that their actual gift - a new SafeRide van for northern Cambridge - would be “slightly larger, and would carry a few more passengers.”

Senior gift participation at a high

The Senior Gift Campaign, a collection of gifts and pledges during the spring of senior year, reached its highest participation level ever this year, at 38 percent. Class of 2001 President Erick N. Tseng apologized that he did not not have a toy truck to present with their gift, but said that he hoped that the check for more than $30,000 would make up for it

Tseng’s speech, written in a style reminiscent of Dr. Seuss’ writing, delivered rhyming commendations to “the class upon which it had rained a whole heap.”

Jibes at the rain that had haunted most major events of the class of 2001 continued, but Tseng pointed out that “the sun and the power now rest on our side.”

Vest’s tribute spans fifty years

The address from President Charles M. Vest carried two messages: a tribute to the class of 1951, and a charge to the class of 2001.

Vest began by acknowledging the different eras in which the two classes lived. “In 1951, the most elaborate brass rat you could turn around cost $24.00, and mailing a thank-you note for a graduation present would have taken a three-cent stamp,” Vest said, “but forgive me if I refuse to tell you what they paid in tuition.”

He reminded all the graduates and alumni of “one thing that never changes: the pride you can take in knowing that you have earned a degree from MIT.”

Grads and families share in joy

Angel Ponce, father of Adrian L. Ponce ’01, described the ceremony as “out of sight. I’m a very proud parent. I hadn’t cried in four years, and I cried today.”

Adrian Ponce expressed relief and optimism. “It was a long four years,” he said, “but it was worth the $120 grand, or it will be soon.”

Lara Olson, wife of doctoral recipient Pablo Policzer, said, “MIT has given Policzer a connection to a larger world of people and ideas. It’s been rewarding, and it’s nice to be at the end.

“It had been difficult for him to keep the tremendous accomplishment [of a doctorate] in mind,” Olson said, “but both Commencement and the hooding ceremony were a great reminder of the achievement at the end of a long, slow process.”

Graduates reflect on greater gifts

Many students focused on what they had gained beyond the thin piece of paper they received that afternoon, and looked ahead to the open doors of the future.

“The Institute gave me important tools for reasoning that will be with me always,” Policzer said. “I’ve learned to think and rigorously pursue an idea while I was here.”

Katherine S. Lemon, who received a degree from Harvard Medical School in addition to her doctorate from MIT, said, “I want to do research in pediatrics and infectious disease, and I chose the dual degree program because of the training in research here.”

“I really enjoyed our program in architecture, and I’m hoping it will get me into a good grad school,” Molly S. Forr ’01 said.

LaTanya A. Sweeney PhD ‘01 also noted the gifts that the Institute is receiving from its students. Sweeney, the first black woman to receive a doctorate in computer science from MIT, said, “It’s wonderful to see MIT changing. The diversity has started to increase. I hope that MIT has the courage to continue these increases, especially within the faculty.”

Setup, hack appreciated

Even the details of the ceremony did not go unnoticed. Billie Adams, Lemon’s mother, “thought the screen was very considerate. We were sitting pretty far back, and it helped us see what was going on.”

For Forr, “The best part of the ceremony was the NASA balloons with the parachuting beavers.”

The most common complaint was the heat. “I really liked the formality, but it was too hot under the sun,” Olson said.