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Ekstrom: Our Spirit Is What Sets Us Apart

Below is the text of outgoing Graduate Student Council President Leeland B. Ekstrom’s speech at this year’s Commencement ceremony held June 6.

Graduates of 2008: When I think of the characteristics that we share as students of this great institution, several immediately jump to mind: attributes such as romantic attachment to technology, a shared appreciation of cleverness, a bloodhound’s nose for finding free food, and the ability to function on miniscule amounts of sleep have all been honed by our experiences at MIT.

Above all of these qualities, though, it is our spirit that sets us apart. What do I mean by spirit? I’m referring to that entrepreneurial, push-the-limits, refuse-to-accept-the-norm attitude that pulses through these corridors. It is that spirit with which you have approached all aspects of your careers at MIT, such as taking five classes, when they only recommended three, or sending that paper to Nature, instead of the “Journal of Unimportant Results.”

If you export one thing from MIT to share with the world, let it be that spirit. The challenges we face are daunting, from the global, such as reversing environmental destruction and alleviating extreme poverty, to the very personal, such as determining how to remain human in an increasingly digital world. To solve these problems will require a large dose of that MIT spirit. So please, share it generously with all those you encounter.

In short, my advice to you, the graduating class, is to always see what you can get away with. Refuse convention. Cover your ears when they tell you it can’t be done. Make it better, even if it’s already good enough, because you can.

To the families, gathered here in celebration, you are to be commended for your support. It’s not always easy to parent a child who refused convention on principle or who took apart household electronics for fun. We’re here because you pushed us, because you thought we could be more, so, please, don’t stop now.

Graduates of 2008, congratulations on the achievements that this day represents. The outside world awaits you now, and we are all excited to see how you will answer its call. Thank you.