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President Vest--'Cooperate as well as compete'


Thank you, Ms. Chen. It is a moving experience to receive a gift from the class at a moment like this-after all we've put you through!

Your gift-a new information booth in the Student Center-is certainly fitting for these times. I'm sure your class will be racing ahead of most of us on the information highway, and we are very grateful for the lift that your gift will give us. Thank you very much.


Once again we are gathered in Killian Court-the Great Court of MIT-to celebrate accomplishment, heritage and passage. It may, perhaps, seem odd that a community so dedicated to the future, and so permeated by scientific objectivity, comes together donning strange and colorful medieval regalia. But indeed it is fitting, and seemingly fulfilling of deep human needs, that such rituals take place.

They remind us of the continuity through the ages of discovery and learning-of our role in an unbroken, centuries-old chain of human accomplishment. achievements of mind and of spirit.

But above all, it celebrates your accomplishments during your student years.

This is not to say that you have accomplished the remarkable feat of graduating from MIT all on your own, however! We are surrounded by parents, family, friends, spouses and children who have supported and sustained you through the years. You will recognize them today by their smiles, brought about by their great pride in your accomplishments. and, no doubt, by a sense of great relief to their bank accounts.

Let us then, express our deep appreciation to all who have come to Cambridge today to join in your commencement ceremony. Will you, the graduates, please rise, turn to your audience and give them the applause they so richly deserve.

It is also especially wonderful to see the babies and small children who come to see their mothers and fathers graduate. They too are welcome. And as this ceremony stretches onward, I give them special presidential approval to comment upon the proceedings. at any time and in any manner they see fit.

In delivering this charge, my task should be to set before you great principles to live by. Yet in this age of relativism, as I pondered just which principles to disclose to you, I recalled the statement of no less a great mind than Groucho Marx, who once said with great conviction, "These are my principles. And if you don't like them, I have some others."

On second thought, perhaps I will bypass the wisdom and just remind you of an experience we have shared together.

Some of you may recall that this class is also my class. On August 30, 1990, we came together for the first time-you as MIT's new freshman class, and I as MIT's new freshman president. That moment, standing before 1,100 of the brightest and most creative young men and women from around the country and around the world, gathered together in Kresge Auditorium to begin their education at MIT, was one of the most exhilarating of my life.

On that day we were all proud to have been selected to join the ranks of MIT. We shared the exhilaration of becoming part of its intellectual and creative atmosphere. We were confident and eager to get on with the year's activities. But to tell the truth, we also were a little apprehensive about the less certain aspects of what lay ahead. Nonetheless, we knew that we were all embarking on the next stage of a great adventure.

I said to you that day that I hoped you would accept me as a member of your class, and trusted that you would allow me to live and work among you. I also noted that I looked forward to the one other occasion when I would be standing before you in a formal setting. And that would be in Killian Court-at your graduation in the spring of 1994.

Well, we made it: here we are!

For all of us, these four years have been intense. They seem to have passed by in the twinkling of an eye, and they seem to have lasted a lifetime. We moved through changes in our internal and external worlds that were beyond our imagining. We encountered new ideas and new people, and were enriched by what we learned in these meetings. Above all, we learned to couple intellectual rigor and discipline with creativity and innovation, and we gained the self-confidence to approach virtually any challenge that may lie ahead.


And the challenges before us are great.

His Highness-by his presence here today, and in the thoughts he has shared with us-reminded us just how great these challenges are.

We live and work in a rapidly changing and increasingly interdependent world society. It is a world in which new balances must be struck. We must resolve the tensions between competition and cooperation, between fragmentation and integration, and between nation and world.

This will take some learning. We understand the value of competition. We know the value of the rugged individual and the iconoclast. But we are just beginning to learn the value of cooperation and of teamwork. Economically, socially, politically-if you want to shape a vibrant and just future, you must learn to cooperate as well as compete.

The message of cooperation is simple, but its implementation is not. For we seem to have fragmented along every conceivable fault line-fragmented by intellectual discipline, fragmented by race, fragmented by gender, fragmented by geography. In the international arena, we may have stepped back at last from the superpower standoff but we find peace and stability challenged by the unleashed forces of nationalism, ethnic hatred and local warfare. With every such division, we lose more of our sense of common humanity.

It will not be easy to resolve our differences and tensions. But if we are to build the future we want for ourselves and our children, we must build it together. We must have a sense of common purpose. We must have an integrated, inclusive view of history. We must have community. We must have mutual respect. We must hold common values at the deepest levels. I believe this is possible. I believe that the true historical trend is one of communication, interaction and cooperation. Witness the people of South Africa, who have placed apartheid behind them and set off on a brave new path.

I do not suggest that we sweep aside all differences. To the contrary, we thrive on differences of experience, culture and perspective. As Alfred North Whitehead said in his 1925 lectures on Science and the Modern World, "Other nations of different habits are not enemies-they are godsends." This is true whether we speak of societies, professions or single institutions. The electrical engineer and the mechanical engineer are able to build systems together which neither can build alone. Men and women together create a balanced discourse and world view. Black and white. brown and yellow. red and tan. create a campus and a nation far more meaningful and creative than any alone. As you shape the future, you must respect and cherish differences, but you must build common purpose and values.

MIT is an American institution, and each of you is a citizen of some nation-for most of you, that nation is the United States of America. But MIT is also an institution of the world, and its greatness derives in large measure from its cosmopolitan nature and its connections throughout the world. The same must be true of you. Be proud and committed to your nation but also look beyond it. To shape a future of greatness, you must be citizens of the world.

And though this world seems increasingly less predictable and less stable, the opportunity to discover, learn, grow and serve has never been so great. I am optimistic that we-and you-will make the most of this opportunity.

Why am I optimistic? We need only look around us. Our faculty and our students are the reason for this confidence and this hope. MIT is a place that helps shape the future.

Because of our faculty, MIT is a place where science advances. where art thrives. where technology extends our reach. where thought leads to new order. and where new modes of teaching and learning are invented and put to use.

But the deeper reason for optimism is you. You are unmatched in your talent, your education, your sense of service, your entrepreneurial spirit and your basic goodness. Beyond that, you have had the remarkable experience of living in a truly international, multicultural community and all the while you have been setting and meeting your own highest standards.

With such a legacy, you give us all great hope for the future. You will not fail us.

Men and women of MIT, I wish you godspeed and the best of good fortune.

A version of this article appeared in the June 1, 1994 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 38, Number 35).

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