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Retiree looks back on MIT

On September 16, MIT honored its 1996-97 retirees with a dinner at the Faculty Club (see story on page 6). MIT Tech Talk asked Daniel Langdale, an assistant dean in the Graduate Education Office, for his observations and recollections upon his retirement after 31 years at MIT. Here is his answer:

I am aware of how little time 30 years is in relation to the universe -- a reality always permeating a place as important as MIT, a place continually tuned to the long view. An institution, by definition, cannot change very much very rapidly, can it?

So I find the students as energetic, as intense, as heroic as ever. I'm being kind of romantic, I suppose, but I have always seen Techies as the true heroes of the world of post-adolescents. Athletes get all the ink, but the MIT students who at 2am, alone in their rooms, are struggling to finish that imposssible problem set to assure the future of my unborn grandchildren (OK, you cynics, and maybe get rich in doing it) are the true heroes for me.

Sam Jones, a colleague who labored for years to illuminate my thinking on all topics, taught me the fable of the king and his valet (the one who thought the king merely a man -- which was why he was destined to be no more than a valet). I have always thought that those who thought MIT and its students just another college were missing the great satisfaction of working here.

The massive change in these years has been MIT's wisdom in following the urging of the nation's black leaders to expand the diversity of its student body and its faculty/administration. The engagement of the nation's superior black students has been the most exciting and invigorating reality during those years. The related facility for attracting those students from the Mexican-American population has been wonderful to observe. And, of course, we have watched the great increase in the numbers of Asian-American citizens, to the huge benefit of the Institute and the country.

The dramatic increase in the number of women students (from, say, 10 percent to near 50 percent) has brought a markedly beneficial change to the Institute's views in every realm.

What hasn't changed is the Institute's commitment. Romantic, again, I suppose to those with an oblique opinion, I have observed every president (Dr. Vest was my fifth) committed to having MIT do right by its student body, to speak truth and to try very hard not to knock down youthful optimism. MIT still impresses me as a place that universally believes there is promise enough to hold that the Earth will be saved for another millenium. To have worked most of my career under the direction of one man -- Paul Gray -- is wholly uncommon and so good.

I would say that the success of my career is to have made and held the friendship of dozens of impressive people -- students, faculty and staff. I wish I could provide a list of them. Perhaps I can use this forum to launch my little idea to have a book some place at MIT for recording haiku in honor of those who have served MIT -- each retiree with more than 10 years at the Institute with his/her few lines, regardless of position, composed by a colleague. Just think of that great book in, say, 2650.

In an era reportedly of diminishing grasp of value and declining commitment to doing good, working at MIT has been a remarkable experience.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 24, 1997.

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