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Boston Weather: 46.0°F | A Few Clouds

Rain Fails To Soak Spirits of Graduates

By Jessica A. Zaman


Last week’s Commencement ceremony proved that there is a force even MIT students cannot harness: the will of Mother Nature.

Last Friday’s forecast featured an ominous “chance of light showers.” Unfortunately luck was not with the graduates and only toward the end of the ceremony did the cold, drizzling rain subside.

But the cold and bleak conditions did not dampen the optimistic spirit of the momentous occasion too badly. Stephen D. Immerman, director of external services, said that about 12,000 people attended Commencement.

The general tone of commencement was also quite optimistic, considering the tragedy of last September 11 and the current strife in the global community.

Commencement speaker James D. Wolfensohn, president of the World Bank, encouraged graduates to change the world. “You have been trained to make the world a better place,”Wolfensohn said.

Service to the local and global community was a dominant theme throughout commencement.

Guests were treated to authentic Boston weather -- the wet and cold treatment. Audience members made the best of the situation, however. Most welcomed the plastic ponchos distributed by MIT Commencement staff.

Most attendees were still happy to be in Killian Court. “Despite the difficulties of bad weather and rain, I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be than rainy Boston,” said Dick Whalen, father of graduate Todd E. Whalen SM ’02.

However, the conditions were eventually too harsh for most. By the conclusion of the ceremony, less than half the graduates and audience members remained.

Heightened security marks event

Wolfensohn’s association with the World Bank has generated controversy on campus since his selection as commencement guest speaker was announced in February. In an attempt to prevent interruption of the ceremony, administrators implemented far-reaching security measures.

“People do have the right to disagree, but not to disrupt,” Immerman said.

Extra security measures included increasing the typical security staff by approximately 50 people and performing a thorough security check on attendees. Graduates and guests were required to pass through metal detectors and submit belongings for search by security personnel.

The security measures were complicated but met with success. Graduates and guests were quite satisfied with the security measures.

“I’d rather have a slight inconvenience, since it’s worth the safety. They did a good job handling it,” said Joel Parrish, father of Ian J. Parrish ’02.

“The lines were moving pretty fast, even thought they were long,” said Revathi Ramani, sister of Prabha P. Kannan ’02.

Wolfensohn draws criticism

Prior to the ceremony, red “report cards,” grading the World Bank with a large “F” were distributed by protesters for audience members to hold up during Wolfensohn’s address. Wolfensohn made reference to the cards during his speech, laughing them off. “I got too many of them when I went through university,” Wolfensohn said.

Other protests held off campus attracted a crowd somewhat smaller than anticipated. An estimate of one to two hundred was given for the number of protesters that marched as far as Harvard Bridge, where they were stopped by security personnel.

“Perhaps the weather was a factor,” Immerman said.

Wolfensohn’s stresses equity

Although Wolfensohn’s controversial presence at Commencement brought significant publicity, the critical moment passed fleetingly. In contrast to typical Commencement addresses, Wolfensohn’s spanned only a few minutes. In the words of graduating senior Megan E. McBee ’02, the address was “short and sweet.”

Wolfensohn’s primary message to the graduating class was that they must rise to meet the challenge of “planetary equity.” He declared the world was no longer a place where one’s personal interests were independent of conditions of others around the world.

“The issue of poverty, the issue of development, the issue of equity is your issue. You cannot avoid it. It is the issue of peace, and you, all of you here, have been trained to make our world a better place.”

Wolfensohn also commended MIT for taking an active role in the education of global community, in particular by introducing its new OpenCourseWare system.

Students, Vest stress social concerns

Social activism and concern for world affairs was an issue every commencement speaker addressed.

Graduate Student Council President Dilan A. Seneviratne G, advised that peace may be a achieved if students followed the simple etiquette of always being considerate of others. “We must care about the ourselves as much as those around us,” Seneviratne said.

The Class of 2005 gift also reflected the spirit of working for the sake of a progressive peace. Class President, Sudeb C. Dalai ’02, presented the Class of 2002’s Peace Garden to MIT President Charles M. Vest. “The Peace Garden symbolizes our community’s strength and solidarity and the growth of the MIT student,” Dalai said.

President Vest charged graduates to use their education, talent, and energy to build a healthier world community. Vest also pointed out that cooperation among people of all nationalities and economic backgrounds has been instrumental in the success of MIT and America in the past. He emphasized that continuation of such cooperation would be important to the world’s future.

EMTs debut during ceremony

A new student organization made its debut during this year’s commencement. The MIT Student Emergency Medical Services organization assisted the Commencement medical staff in providing care for attendees.

“It was our first large-scale coordinated event,” said SEMS President Michael R. Folkert G.

For the past two years, SEMS has been training MIT students as certified emergency medical technicians. SEMS is part of the MIT administration’s effort to provide confidential emergency medical support for students. Commencement was the first time many MIT student EMTs were able to put their skills to use.

“It’s been a tough event. There are a lot of cold people,” said Samuel A. Schweighart G, chief of the SEMS ambulance corps.

This summer, SEMS members will begin staffing the MIT ambulance four nights a week.