No birthday celebration is complete without a cake, and MIT’s 150th confection was one for the ages.
The 24-foot, 1,000-pound creation was on display for — and then promptly eaten by — the Institute community during Saturday evening’s Toast to Tech event. Across the Charles River, the windows of Boston’s second-tallest skyscraper, the Prudential Center, were lit up to read “MIT 150” in a towering tribute to the Institute’s century and a half. The sight of “the Pru” provided the perfect backdrop to a firework show over the river that had Toast to Tech’s approximately 8,000 guests looking onward and upward in awe.
- Video: Watch the making of the cake
The party, which was co-hosted by the Institute and the MIT Alumni Association and took place from 9:30 to 11 p.m. in Killian Court, brought together alumni, students, faculty, staff and friends of the Institute to commemorate its sesquicentennial anniversary. Toast to Tech was the official finale of the MIT150 celebrations.
Upon entering Killian Court, guests found festive columns of red light; an array of tables, chairs, dessert towers and drink-serving stations; and even a dance floor. Many gravitated toward the cake, a replica of the campus complete with architectural landmarks (the Great Dome, Simmons Hall, Kresge Auditorium, the Green Building, the Ray and Maria Stata Center and the new MIT Sloan School of Management building among them), cars along Memorial Drive, Tim the Beaver crawling across the Massachusetts Avenue bridge and a Charles River of blue and white cupcakes spelling “MIT 150.”
The cake, made by Montilio’s of Boston, required two bakers, six decorators and five days to construct. In addition to 270 pounds of sugar, the final product contained 225 pounds of cake flour and nearly seven pounds of baking powder. “It’s pretty impressive,” said Harry Voorhees SM ’87, who had driven from Andover, Mass., for the event. “I don’t even recognize all the buildings on there — they must have added some since my time here.”
At 10 p.m., under a glowing Great Dome, MIT Alumni Association Executive Vice President and CEO Judith Cole took the stage to introduce the evening’s speakers — but first, guests were treated to a viewing of three astronaut alumni’s 150th tribute sent from space.
Following the video, Robert Satcher ’86, a NASA astronaut who took a copy of the MIT charter aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis to the International Space Station in November 2009, officially presented the charter along with a flight montage and certificate of flight to Institute administrators. Satcher was in attendance for his own 25th reunion.
Next, Joe Harrington ’61, representing the 50th reunion class, delivered the winning toast from the Toast to Tech contest. Nearly 350 alumni submitted entries; a panel of judges — including Pulitzer Prize-winning MIT professors Junot Díaz and John Harbison; Professor and Chair of the MIT150 Steering Committee David Mindell PhD ’96; MIT President Emeritus Paul Gray ’54, SM ’55, ScD ’60; and retired New York Times journalist Karen Arenson ’70 — selected the winner as well as four runners-up.
The winning toast was written by Deslie Webb Quinby MBA ’95, of Atlanta, Ga. It read:
Sometimes we speak a language others do not understand. We fail more often than we succeed. But then, in the quiet of a roaring crowd, a glimmer of thought changes the world. MIT: Believing the impossible, creating the unknown, providing hope for future generations, making marks in time — that’s MIT. Here’s to MIT!
Finally, MIT President Susan Hockfield thanked Mindell and the MIT150 steering committee for organizing a successful sesquicentennial celebration. She offered her own toast to the Institute: “To MIT, for 150 years. Your inspiring motto — mens et manus, mind and hand — has sent people into the world to invent the future. May this great Institute continue to send forth people and ideas to make the world a better place. Happy 150th birthday, MIT!”
The conclusion of Hockfield’s speech set off the show of fireworks over the Charles River.
Fireworks over the Charles River from the Toast to Tech event
Video: MIT Alumni Association
Throughout the evening, Tim the Beaver posed for photos with attendees. Young and old alike adorned themselves with the red glow sticks that had been placed on every table. A giant screen displayed a montage of video from various MIT150 events that took place over the last 150 days, including symposia and community gatherings.
An eight-piece band, Boston City Rhythm, provided an energetic soundtrack to the evening that included an impressive 20-minute improvisation during the fireworks show — the brainchild of keyboard player Jim Zaroulis. “I just play it as I see it — every firework has its own color and shape, and that inspired the chords,” he said.
A tale of two dormitories
For many alumni in attendance, the event brought back fond memories of their time at the Institute. When asked what his proudest moment at MIT was, Adam Carley ’61, SM ’62, PhD ’69 replied that without question, it was getting Ashdown House — or Graduate House, as it was then known — to open its doors to women. “I said to my buddies, ‘Why can’t our house be co-ed?’” Carley said. Speaking over one of the band’s amplified dance numbers, he relayed the story of how he enlisted some friends sympathetic to the cause, and they formed a group determined to fight for the right of graduate men and women to live in the same dormitory.
Like true MIT students, they first set out to uncover the facts: They researched which other U.S. universities allowed co-ed dorms at the time (none on the East Coast); polled their neighbors to get the ratio of those for and against (“It didn’t go 100 to zero, believe it or not,” Carley said, “it was more like 85 to 15”); and took the administration’s temperature on the issue (“One of the deans said, ‘No way,’” Carley remembered).
But after making a presentation to a half-dozen administrators, Carley and his comrades convinced the Institute to allow women to live on the third floor — which happened to be Carley’s — for a one-semester trial period. After that, the whole dorm became co-ed for good.
Perhaps it is only fitting, then, that newly minted 2011 graduate Risha Mars’ fondest MIT memory comes from a dorm experience of her own — this time in Simmons Hall. As she clinked champagne glasses with her parents, she described the freshman-year phenomenon of “elevator sleepovers.” “We dragged a couch in there and we just stayed in there all night going up and down,” she said, smiling.
Meanwhile, under the cake tent, the baked version of Simmons Hall was the first MIT landmark to come under the knife of the caterers, who began handing out slices to eager partygoers.
It’s a wrap
Shortly after 11 p.m. — and the band’s second encore — the beaver ice sculptures had begun to melt and the cake was largely decimated (the only landmark still intact was the Green Building). Guests filed out onto Memorial Drive, taking one last admiring look at the Great Dome and, across the river, the Prudential Center, whose 750-foot-high (or 134.32 Smoots, as Hockfield pointed out) homage to the Institute still shone brightly.
Standing in the middle of Killian Court, a group of four friends — Sauparna Das MEng ’02, PhD ’05; Andy Fan ’06; John Fiorenza PhD ’07; and Joyce Wu PhD ’07 — seized the opportunity to raise their glasses and say, “To MIT — 150 more!”