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Vest Delivers Address, Voted Off Outback

‘Survivor’-Themed Orientation Continues as Vest Offers Welcome to Institute Freshmen

By Dana Levine


President Charles M. Vest welcomed the class of 2005 into the MIT community at yesterday’s convocation ceremony.

In keeping with the “Survivor” theme, the ceremony began with a reenactment of the tribal council segment from the hit television series. Alex D. Forrest ’04 hosted the skit, which involved several members of the Orientation staff voting President Vest out of the Australian Outback.

After being ousted from the tribe, Vest was given the opportunity to say a few words, which turned out to be his convocation address. Vest described MIT as “a place where people want not only to discover the world, and how it works, but also to make it better.”

He mentioned that MIT faculty, alumni, and staff have won 47 Nobel prizes, founded 4,000 companies, and worked on many of the most important inventions of the past century.

Vest urged incoming freshmen to continue this tradition by becoming actively involved in learning and research at the Institute. “We think every student should be a partner in research and discovery... whether in the classroom or laboratory,” he said. “There will be opportunities - in the days and years to come - for us to sit beside each other, as learners and teachers together.”

Freshmen should meet faculty

Vest also encouraged the members of the class of 2005 to get to know at least one faculty member during their time at the Institute. “Believe it or not, those students who say they have had a great experience here are most likely to be those who have come to know at least one faculty member well,” he said. Vest recommended the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program as a good way to meet faculty, although he also suggested that students try to meet professors on a more personal level.

“Or here’s one - one that might surprise you. There is actually a good chance that you know things that members of our faculty wish they knew. Yes, they are teachers and scholars, but you might be able to show one of them how to share directories between a Palm Pilot and a cell phone, or how to think differently about a math problem or a poem or the latest in music,” Vest said.

Following Vest’s speech, Peter De Florez Professor Of Psychology Steven Pinker spoke about his research on the human mind. “The great thing about the human mind is that there are an infinite number of puzzles that one can make up... For example, why do women smear their faces with makeup?... And why is eating worms disgusting?” he said.

Pinker explains euphemisms

Just a few months ago, the city of San Diego decided that the term “minority” will be removed from all official documents. “Minority - why should this be offensive? If there are two groups, unless they are divided 50-50, one has to be in the minority,” he said.

Pinker went on to discuss how we often freshen up an unpopular concept by referring to it in a new way. Soon, that word is replaced by yet another word, and then another.

“When I grew up there was this stuff called garbage, and the people who took it away were called garbage men,” he said. More recently these people have come to be referred to as sanitation engineers, and finally environmental workers.

Pinker described this phenomenon as the “euphemism treadmill” and said that it is used when the original word becomes tainted by derogatory connotations. “This has nothing to do with the precise meaning of the words,” he said, noting that ‘colored’ is taboo although ‘person of color’ is appropriate.”

In another example, Pinker described how the word “negro” was originally used as a replacement for the term “colored.” Soon the accepted term was changed to “black” in an attempt to create a parallel term to “white.” More recently, this has been changed to “African American.”

“What does this show? It shows that our attitudes are slow to change,” he said. Pinker believes that we will only overcome racism when our terms for minority groups stop changing.

UA President wakes students up

Undergraduate Association President Jaime E. Devereaux ’02 concluded the event with her speech on the “Top ten ways to wake up at MIT.” These included waking up in Killian Court, in libraries, and in class. “Waking up mid-class is better than sleeping all the way through,” she said.

Construction noise was also near the top of the list. Although a student may not appreciate being woken up at 7 a.m. when his classes don’t begin at 12, he may actually welcome the construction noise after staying up until 4 a.m. studying for an 8 a.m. test.

“Cambridge and Boston always have some sort of construction going on, and it is usually right under your window,” Devereaux said.