Days of downpours gave way to a soft, steady mist as members of the MIT Class of 2006 were urged to relish their victory and temper their ambitions with compassion and service to humanity during the Institute's 140th Commencement exercises, held Friday, June 9, in Killian Court.
During the morning-long ceremony, 2,109 undergraduates and graduate students received 1,036 bachelor's degrees, 1,048 master's degrees, 270 doctorates and nine engineer degrees.
Macroeconomist Ben S. Bernanke (PhD 1979), chair of the Federal Reserve, delivered the principal address.
Bernanke assumed leadership of the Federal Reserve on Feb. 1. The head of the Federal Reserve is widely considered to be the world's most powerful economist.
Bernanke's talk provided a short history of economics at MIT, a portrait of the ways in which technology and economics mutually nourish the nation's overall vigor, and a glimpse of the future for the Class of 2006. He urged the graduates to make a "difference in the world through volunteering, civic participation, charitable activities or the type of work you choose to do."
True to the MIT Commencement tradition of honoring mentors and guides, Bernanke pointed to individual faculty members who inspired students and advanced the Institute's "outstanding reputation" among economics departments. He cited Nobel laureates on the economics faculty -- Paul Samuelson (won prize in 1970), Franco Modigliani (1985) and Robert Solow (1987) -- as examples of excellence and guidance.
He also noted those MIT economists who applied mathematical tools to economics and gained "leading roles in government and in the private sector, including the current heads of four central banks: those of Chile, Israel, Italy and, I might add, the United States."
Bernanke introduced the concept of the "virtuous circle" in his discussion of the mutual benefits among economics, science and technology.
"When the economics is right, scientific and technological advances promote economic development, which in turn, in a virtuous circle, may provide resources and incentives that help to foster more innovation," he said.
According to Bernanke, the United States is in a good economic position to benefit from -- and to benefit -- the virtuous circle of technology, innovation and development. Global competition is one such benefit, he said.
"Competition is one of the key benefits of free and open trade; companies that are exposed to global competition tend to be much more efficient and to produce goods of higher quality than companies that are sheltered from international competition," he said.
Bernanke praised America's high-quality research universities for the role they have played in the development and commercialization of new ideas. "For example, Intel was co-founded by an MIT graduate, and MIT graduates played key roles in designing and developing the Internet," he said.
Bernanke was optimistic about the future for the 2006 graduates of MIT. "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 our society," he said.
Sylvain Bruni, president of the Graduate Student Council, addressed the crowd on Killian Court, exhorting them to "remember this day as a grand one."
"You are now part of MIT history. You have entered a lifelong contract that binds you to use your leadership skills and abilities. Strive for greatness! You set the bar high in entering MIT, and you are setting it higher by graduating from it," he said.
Kimberley Wu, president of the Class of 2006, praised the class for its commitment to public service, noting its record-setting level of participation in donating to the annual class gift, and praising their involvement in hurricane relief, Habitat for Humanity, local tutoring and health-care programs.
Wu presented President Susan Hockfield with the senior class gift, a check for $31,000 to fund student life scholarships. She then led her peers in the "turning of the Brass Rat," a ritual in which the MIT class ring is reversed on the finger to denote alumni/ae status.
Making a difference
In her charge to the graduates, Hockfield emphasized the leadership roles MIT graduates could take. "At times in the years ahead when a choice of direction presents itself, I hope you will ask yourselves, 'Where can I do the most good? How can I make the greatest difference in the world?'"
Hockfield also asked the Class of 2006 to "inspire your own generation and the generations to come with a renewed sense of possibility and optimism for the future. Here at MIT, we see up close the myriad ways in which science and technology promise to benefit humankind. If we are to realize that promise, we need to kindle in others the same love and passion for truth and discovery, for creativity and problem-solving, that brought us all here."
Miriam Rosenblum, MIT Jewish chaplain, delivered the invocation. She opened by citing, in Hebrew and in English, the very values each of the subsequent speakers stressed -- love of learning, service and acts of loving kindness -- and urged the graduating class to "use learning as a force for good."
Hockfield presented the following degrees: bachelor of science; bachelor of science/master of science; bachelor of science/master of engineering; and advanced degrees in the School of Science, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the Whitaker College of Health Sciences and Technology.
Provost L. Rafael Reif awarded advanced degrees in the Schools of Architecture and Planning; Engineering; Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences; and in the MIT Sloan School of Management.