Todd Atkins' most vivid memory of Commencement Day in 2001 is the heat. The principal speaker was Daniel Goldin, the administrator of NASA.
"I don't remember much of Goldin's speech other than it was very generic," recalled Atkins, who participated in the procession and received the S.B. in electrical engineering and computer science on June 8, 2001. "I'm not sure whether I remember so little because of his speech, or whether I just wasn't paying attention because it was too hot."
Atkins, who is from Hampden, Maine, will pay closer attention at this year's Commencement on June 9 when he receives the M.Eng. degree. The speaker is George Mitchell, who represented Maine in the U.S. Senate from 1980-95, serving as majority leader for six years.
"I originally decided not to walk this year for Commencement," Atkins said. "One day of sitting around for four hours is enough. However, when I learned that George Mitchell was the speaker, I began to reconsider. I plan to attend to listen to his speech."
Atkins' family supported Mitchell during his career in politics.
Although he has not met the former senator, Atkins has been impressed with other elected officials he has met from his home state and admires Mitchell for his accomplishments.
"He has created quite a legacy with both the work he has done from Maine and for the world," he said.
Mitchell chaired the peace negotiations in Northern Ireland that resulted in the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. He also authored the Mitchell Report in 2000 which outlined a timetable for peace in the Middle East. While widely praised, it was not implemented.
Atkins' career plans are in flux, although he expects to blend social reform with education. "I began TA-ing 6.001 (Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs) and have found a new love in teaching," he said.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on June 4, 2003.