Graduates were told to assemble in Johnson Athletics Center at 7:30 a.m. on Commencement morning. By 8:45, the place roared with voices and a noisy air-circulation system that did little to alleviate the large room's heat and humidity.
It was filled with smiling men and women standing in roped queues wearing black caps and gowns. Under the gown, some dressed for the weather, some for the occasion. A few outfits stood out for their beauty or playfulness, among them:
S.B. in chemical engineering,
She wore a glittering tiara on top of her mortarboard because it's "kind of girlie."
"I got teased a lot when I first came here because I wasn't used to MIT and it was kind of harsh. There were mice in my room at Burton-Conner, and I hated mice. I thought my room was small and dirty. It was kind of a shock to me. So my friends, especially my friend George, called me the 'little princess.' When George saw the tiara, he said, 'Oh, that's typical.'"
S.B. in computer science and engineering,
A four-inch-tall vacuum tube was attached to the top of his mortarboard and a much smaller vacuum tube hung over the side along with his tassel. A wire ran from the small tube down his neck, into his robe and down his sleeve, where he held the switch with a battery attached to his torso. The plan: just before going on stage to get his degree and shake President Vest's hand, he'd flip the switch and the tassel-vacuum would glow red.
"I had these in my room--the small tube is from an old oscilloscope, and I don't know where the other one came from--and thought I'd just put them on my hat. But I had to ask a friend for help because this is old technology." Transistors replaced vacuum tubes in the 1950s.
S.B. in electrical engineering,
His black hair standing fashionably straight-up on top and dyed a beautiful bright red on the sides, Mehta carried his mortarboard with the balsa-wood replica of Building 10 he had attached to it, using "some kind of spray-on, tacky stuff that doesn't hold very well. But I think it will hold for the few minutes it takes to walk across the stage."
S.M. in civil and environmental engineering,
Boca Raton, Fla.
She opted for a strapless black gown under her robe "so that it would be comfortable and appropriate for hot weather. I figured even if I was cool underneath, the gown would be like a blanket."
S.B. in chemical engineering,
Wore a double-strand butterscotch-bead necklace made by her mother, who tied butterscotch candy wrappers end to end and put a little blue ribbon around each knot. "I guess she thought it would be fun and if I got hungry I could eat it," said Hsiao.
S.M. in management of technology,
Pakistan and Canada
He wore a white tuxedo shirt and white tie with a dark business suit. "This is a graduation, so I thought it was appropriate to wear it. But I was surprised when I got here to see what other people are wearing," he said, laughing as he looked around at a few men wearing short pants and flip-flops. "I graduated from Oxford a few years ago  and we all had to dress alike--for ladies, a white blouse with lace on it, and a black skirt; for gents, a white shirt and a jet black suit. This time, I've gone for a business suit and I'm happy, because the black suit would have been much too formal."
S.B. in physics and STS,
A stuffed beaver in a mortarboard was attached to Reza's mortarboard by "just two hinges. No glue, just force."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on June 12, 2003.