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Mitchell Addresses 2202 Graduates

By Jeffrey Greenbaum


Two thousand two hundred two students received a total of 2,485 degrees at MIT’s 137th Commencement on June 9.

There was no rain or extreme humidity, and the ceremonies began with a speaker who insisted on keeping his address brief. What more could anyone have asked for?

The event was an opportunity for the graduates to celebrate their accomplishments with their family and friends, while being reminded of their responsibility to be socially conscious as they enter into the real world.

Mitchell discusses peace process

George J. Mitchell, former senator and chairman of the 1998 Northern Ireland peace negotiations, was asked to discuss his work in conflict resolution to the graduates. Although the topics of his speech are serious in nature, he began his address on a lighter note by reassuring the audience that his “intention is to stop speaking before you graduates stop listening.”

Because of his work in Northern Ireland, which ultimately resulted the Good Friday peace agreement, he “formed the conviction that there is no such thing as a conflict that can’t be ended. Conflicts are created, conducted, and sustained by human beings” and human beings can end them, he said.

As a result, Mitchell said he believes that the conflict in the Middle East can be ended. Mitchell chaired a committee that made recommendations for the conflict in the Middle East, and a week before the commencement ceremony, Israel and the Palestinian Authority accepted the statement.

In order for the two parties to reach a lasting solution, both must negotiate, Mitchell said. The difficulty in finding such a solution is that “the circumstances and objectives of the two sides differ. Neither can attain its objective by denying to the other side its objective,” Mitchell said.

Specifically, Mitchell said that the Israelis have a state but want security, and the Palestinians want “an independent, economically viable, geographically contiguous state.”

Nonetheless, Mitchell said that serious problems in implementation have already existed and will continue to exist, but it is possible to end the conflict.

Mitchell addresses responsibilities

Following his discussion of conflict resolution, Mitchell gave the graduates responsibilities and advice for the future.

“You’ve had the good fortune to receive an advanced education, so you have an important role to play in preserving and improving our way life,” Mitchell said.

Although every graduate has their own list of society’s domestic challenges, Mitchell said his consisted of providing every child with a good education, the basics of healthy human life, and equal opportunity and equal justice.

Mitchell concluded his address on a lighter note by giving more advice to the graduates in the form of some jokes.

He described the importance of taking pride in whatever you do by comparing a plumber and a philosopher. Quoting John Gardner, Mitchell said that “an excellent plumber is infinitely more admirable than an incompetant plumber” because a society that tolerates poor philosophies but neglects the value of plumbing will ultimately have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy. “Neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.”

Finally, Mitchell addressed the importance of fulfillment. While he said that it is inevitable and appropriate to devote one’s life toward the quest of income and status, fulfillment does not result from success. Instead, it comes from the use of “physical and spiritual might for a worthwhile objective that helps others that is larger than ... self-interest.”

Wijesinghe finds beauty in MIT

Graduate Student Council President H. Sanith Wijesinghe G then addressed the audience by reflecting upon memories and experiences.

Although Wijesinghe said that beauty is relative and its definition becomes useless relative to abstractness, he described some of the exciting moments in the MIT experience. These include receiving the letter of acceptance, orientation, residence selection, one’s first class, one’s first problem set, and of course, events with free food.

Aside from the unique problem set style at MIT, Wijesinghe said that the quality that makes MIT students unique is their unbounded passion. This passion pushes the limits of research and can help reach solutions for society.

Finally, he advised the graduates to maintain relations with the student groups and student leaders who will face the same challenges that the graduates faced while at MIT.

Nazemi presents MIT traditions

After delivering numerous statistics about the Class of 2003, Class of 2003 President Sina Kevin Nazemi also offered the graduates and the audience some advice.

First he said that if your GPA is suffering that you should cross-register at Harvard University.

After reminding everybody how graduation represents the work of loved ones, he reminded the graduates that much is expected from what they were given. “We can leave MIT merely being reactive ... [but] it is my hope that we leave as active citizens.”

The graduates can thus leave trying to engage in the world’s problems and reflect where they can make an impact.

Nazemi then proceeded to partake in two MIT traditions.

First, he told the graduates to turn their brass rats around to let the world know that they are MIT graduates.

Then, he presented the Senior Class gift, which consisted of $21,187 in donations from roughly a qyarter of the class. The gift is a seal of the institute that will be in Lobby 7 and a scholarship.

Vest concludes the ceremony

President Charles M. Vest concluded the ceremony by greeting the Class of 1953, the families and friends of the graduate, and by describing the opportunities and responsibilities for the graduates.

As graduates of MIT, Vest said that “you of all people stand ready to drive these advances and lead their wise applications.” He likewise told them that as they work to advance or apply scientific and engineering knowledge, it is necessary to understand the social, political, economic, artistic, and historical contexts.

Although the social and political world is pulled together trends in globalization, education, and information technology, for instance, it is also fragmented by politics, poverty, hatred, absolutism, and fear, he said.

Nonetheless, as a result of opportunity comes responsibility, he said, because this education has been a privilege. Vest told the graduates that their task is to shape the future and to be more than smart and knowledgeable but to also be courageous, creative, and compassionate. “We expect no less from you,” Vest said. “We are counting on you.”

Vest also referred to fulfillment in the service of contributing to the world. He urged the graduates by building a community that embraces and values differences and works toward the betterment of all people.

Class of 53 reflects on differences

Graduates from the Class of 1953 said they were delighted to be in attendance at the Class of 2003’s graduation.

Ron Spring ’53 said that MIT students today are better prepared for the workforce than when he was at MIT because today’s graduates are incredibly computer literate. Spring said that it was very special for him to be able to be back at MIT 50 years later.

Robert Rivers ’53 said how the job market today is different from when he was entering it. When he was a student, “you used to look for a job in the United States in your field.” Instead, he said that people must think in terms of the competition in the world labor supply.

Audience enjoys ceremony

Graduates and their families were happy to be in attendance. Some students were festive in their decorations to their cap. Others were simply enthusiastic participants in the ceremony. Course 16 undergraduates threw paper airplanes as they were called to receive their diplomas. Sloan students gave loud cheers for their classmates as they were called to walk.

Brian Clarke, father of Kimberley A. Clarke SM ’03, said that the commencement speakers were great. “[Mitchell] was brief, to the point, and timely with world events,” he said.

Saik-choon Poh G, who was receiving his MEng degree, said that Mitchell “gave graduates a perception of what is going on. Everything we do is directly or indirectly related to world affairs.”

As for graduating from MIT, Poh said that “it feels to nice to have graduated.”

“I don’t know what to say,” he said. “I can’t wait to get out of here.”