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Speakers Urge Grads to Help Community

By Shreyes Seshasai

Despite the ominous weather forecast, barely a drizzle came down on the 2,109 students who received their degrees last Friday during the 140th commencement exercises at MIT.

A crowd of an estimated 13,000 gathered in Killian Court as members of the Class of 2006 reached a milestone in their academic careers. The graduates were joined in Killian by the Class of 1956, celebrating their 50th reunion.

Chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben S. Bernanke PhD ’79 delivered the keynote address to the graduates. Bernanke, who earned his PhD in Economics, was appointed to his position by President Bush earlier this year. Also addressing the graduates were Graduate Student Council President Sylvain Bruni G, Class of 2006 President Kimberly W. Wu ’06, and President Susan Hockfield. All four speakers stressed using their skills to provide service to others and society as a common theme.

Bernanke began his remarks by reminding students of the “tradition of collaboration at MIT between economics and the engineering and scientific disciplines.” He followed with a short history of how the teaching of economics has developed at MIT over the years, citing how its unique mathematical approach to the field contributed to “the foundation for economics as a discipline in the second half of the twentieth century.”

Bernanke focused much of his speech on the impact technology can have on economic growth, how “the material benefits of innovation spring from complementarities between technology and economics.” He discussed how productivity in the United States has grown in the past decade through advances in information technologies, of which the United States has been able to take advantage through its economic policies.

The role of major research universities has benefited economic growth in the United States, he said, citing Intel’s co-founder, the late Robert N. Noyce PhD ’53, as an example. However, Bernanke did admit that “the full economic benefits of recent technological changes have not yet been completely realized.”

“You will be at the heart of this critical process of developing new technologies,” encouraged Bernanke, voicing a message of being open to new and varied opportunities. “New opportunities will always arise for those who seek them. If you remain nimble in searching out new and unexpected opportunities, it will not only benefit you, but it will also benefit the economy and the society.”

Bernanke’s speech had little effect on the markets last week, as he shied away from comments on the current state of the US economy. However, he has delivered three separate talks over the past week on a variety of topics, ranging from bank supervision to household debt. All of this came as the markets approached 6 month lows earlier in the week, which analysts have suggested is a repercussion of Bernanke’s comments several weeks ago that inflation was still a concern in the United States.

Bruni’s address focused on the journey that each student has taken through MIT. “You are now part of this institution’s history of excellence,” he said. He also commented on the new responsibilities that come with being a graduate of MIT, connecting graduation with a “contract that binds you to make use of your thinking and top notch abilities.” Bruni also proudly described how members of the class have taken a leadership role outside of the classroom at MIT, developing skills that will help shape the world in the future.

“The power to change the world is right here today, in your hands and your minds,” Bruni described. He concluded by stating “It falls upon you to shape the skies of tomorrow...the future is now yours.”

Wu gave a spirited address to her classmates as well, poking fun at the saying that an MIT student can only choose two of the three fundamental aspects of his life: work, friends, and sleep. She reflected on many of the common experiences that the graduates have shared during their time at MIT, including 8.01 showering, staying up late in Athena clusters with friends, and “drinking from the proverbial firehose.”

Like Bruni, Wu emphasized the responsibility that the class had to use their education for the goodness of others. “Let us not forget our responsibility to the world. Let us use our greatness to help those around us.”

Wu also presented the class gift, over $31,000, to President Susan Hockfield and the Institute, most of which will go towards the Class of 2006 Student Life Scholarship Fund. The fund will help provide financial aid to future seniors who hold leadership positions in student groups around campus.

The class set a record with a participation rate of 50 percent for the class gift, besting the previous record of 39 percent set by the Class of 2001. The class gift included a donation of $20,000 by President of the Alumni Association Scott P. Marks Jr. ’69, given because the class had reached the 50 percent giving mark.

Wu and Bruni also led the graduates in the turning of the Brass Rat, the MIT class ring, a symbolic event signifying the completion of MIT. Upon graduating, students turn the brass rat so that the beaver on the bezel is facing outward, with the Cambridge skyline facing the graduates.

Hockfield gave encouraging words to the Class of 2006 in the traditional Charge to the Graduates. Addressing the students, she stated how “your passion and ideas have already changed the world,” and went on to praise the class for its contributions to the Institute and the global community.

Hockfield’s words focused on the potential impact that the graduates will have on the world, showing confidence in their education. “You will help the world meet its need for sustainable energy,” she said. “You will use the converging tools of the life sciences and engineering to cure, and even to prevent, disease...and you will answer the fundamental questions about nature and society.”

Hockfield concluded by challenging each member of the class to “inspire your own generation and the generations to come with a renewed sense of possibility and optimism for the future.”

Following Hockfield’s address, members of the Class of 2006 were presented their diplomas by Hockfield and Provost L. Rafael Reif. At the conclusion of the ceremony, Marks officially welcomed the graduates into the Alumni Association. Following commencement there was a reception on Kresge Oval for the graduates and their families.