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Families recall that special MIT moment

Nancy Ramirez waves her mechanical engineering degree triumphantly, much to the delight of the Ramirez family of Juana Diaz, Puerto Rico, and the audience on Killian Court.
Nancy Ramirez waves her mechanical engineering degree triumphantly, much to the delight of the Ramirez family of Juana Diaz, Puerto Rico, and the audience on Killian Court.
Photo / L. Barry Hetherington

As they waited for the Commencement ceremony to begin Monday, family and friends of some of MIT's 2,202 graduates recalled the point when they knew there was something special, something rare, something, well, very MIT about the person whose hard-earned degree they celebrated.

Claudette Ramirez of Juana Diaz, Puerto Rico, recalled her daughter, Nancy Ramirez, as a first-grader of unusual confidence.

"She used to argue with the teacher about the math questions in class. I knew something was special already," said Ramirez, who wore a red and white "MIT MOM" button and carried a 12-by-14-inch laminated color photograph of her daughter at age 3. Her husband, Roberto, accompanied her to Cambridge to celebrate Ramirez' S.B. in mechanical engineering.

According to his cousin, Jennifer Scharer of New York, David Starr was always "scribbling equations, even when he was little." Starr, a native of Chicago, received the S.B. in physics and mathematics today.

Scharer, a psychologist whose mother is Starr's aunt, took a break from the rather raw weather on Killian Court with 17-month-old daughter Madeleine Katz to snack on Kix cereal in the Stratton Student Center. The first-floor lounge area provided shelter and respite for parents while young children gazed wide-eyed at the candy display in the window of LaVerde's Market.

Back on Killian Court, Carol and Richard Cecire of Madison, Va., kept their seats near one of the large TV screens. They always knew something was special about their daughter, Ashley Skye Cecire, who received the S.M. in civil engineering.

Carol Cecire, a nurse, described her daughter as "extremely artistic when she was little. Every project she did was amazing--like a hint about the future. She was very, very quiet, but you could tell her mind was always going. None of her early teachers could see how smart she was--off the chart!"

Carol and Richard Cecire, a retired police officer, have three other daughters, all high achievers. "We wanted to give them the things we wanted and believed in and couldn't afford for ourselves," he said.

No one in the extended Timoner-Tabak-Surasky family was surprised in the slightest by Samson J. Timoner's Ph.D. in electrical engineering and computer science after his undergraduate success at Caltech.

"I always knew. When he was really little, it was the way he played with puzzles and blocks. We knew he'd be an engineer," said Timoner's aunt, Abby Surasky of Brooklyn, N.Y.

Timoner's father, Julian B. Timoner of Connecticut, recalled a different augury of his son's journey to MIT. "Two things told me. Samson started with computers when he was eight, and when he was 14, he made a presentation at the University of Connecticut on his program for voice-activated computers for people with disabilities. At 14! Before that, we taught him to play backgammon. By the time he was six years old, he beat everybody."

Nine members of Timoner's family came to MIT for either the Ph.D. hooding ceremony, Commencement or both. Samson's mother, Chana Timoner, a rabbi and a captain in the U.S. Army, died in 1998.

"We know she's here in spirit," said Surasky.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on June 12, 2003.

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