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Vest to freshman: Use compassion, judgement

In his convocation speech to the Class of 2002, President Charles M. Vest exhorted the freshmen to use common sense, exercise good judgment and look after themselves and each other during their years at the Institute.

After assuring the freshmen last Thursday that they were not admitted "because we needed more architecture majors or people from Montana," Dr. Vest, in his official welcome to the incoming class, offered a vision of MIT as "a community that can support and sustain each of you."

He encouraged the students to take seriously the programs offered over the subsequent days -- the Health in Sports symposium, the new Residence Midway, and tomorrow night's presentation on the nature of community (Thursday, Sept. 3) by Dr. Richard Keeling of the University of Wisconsin, as well as the availability of undergraduate Orientation Leaders "to help steer you through this hectic but very important week.

"All of these innovations are designed to improve your understanding of the options and opportunities that lie before you in your first year at MIT��������������������������� and to reinforce your sense -- and our sense -- that we are all in this community and institution together," Dr. Vest said.

"As you will be discovering throughout the next week -- and in the years to come -- MIT is not only a collection of exceptional individuals, but also a community that can support and sustain each of you. This university has always been very good at stressing the value of rugged individualism. We challenge our students; we tell you to think for yourselves, to question authority, to follow your instincts and to take chances in the pursuit of your personal and professional goals. All of these aspects of life at MIT are critical to your intellectual and personal development.

"At the same time, however, we expect you to use good judgment, common sense and compassion in the ways you express and fulfill your individuality. We know that you already possess compassion, good judgment, and common sense in abundance. You wouldn't be here todayif you lacked them.

"On the other hand, it is equally true that every year at MIT and other colleges across the nation, students do things that hurt themselves or hurt others. When this happens, it is often because they foolishly suspend their common sense, good judgment, or feeling of connection to a supportive community. Do not let this happen to you.

"During this week and next, you will be making new friends and choosing a place to live. Once you make that choice, cherish those friendships and become an active member of your living group, whatever it is. Be both a recipient and a giver of mutual support of caring and of community. Care for each other���������������������������

"Remember also that, if you need help, advice, guidance -- from your teachers, your fellow students or from any of MIT's administrative staff -- the smart thing to do is ask for it���������������������������

"No matter how smart you are, no one expects you to figure out everything on your own. If you aren't here to benefit from the wisdom, experience and intelligence of others in a very real way, then there's no point in being here.

"Finally, I hope you will make every effort to get to know one another -- especially those of you who come from regions, nations or backgrounds unlike your own," Dr. Vest continued. "This diversity is part of the richness of MIT's learning environment. Immerse yourselfin it, be nurtured within it, and you will be a better student and a better person��������������������������� So work hard, have fun, and -- precisely because you are so full of promise and ability -- please look out for, and take care of, yourselves and each other."

Following his remarks, President Vest introduced Professor Nancy Hopkins of biology, who welcomed the freshmen on behalf of MIT's faculty, and Professor Rosalind Williams, dean of students and undergraduate education, who encouraged the students to exercise good judgment in all their activities, and to rely on the strength of the peer support system.

"But in some cases, seek the advice of older adults," said Dean Williams.

"I'm not your parent. You are responsible adults. But I look at you and I see a little kid��������������������������� So, watch your diet. Get plenty of sleep and be careful crossing the street. Get your exercise and most of all, have a great time," she said.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 2, 1998.

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