The elements may have forced indoors the long awaited festivities, but the spirit and enthusiasm remained undaunted throughout an informal two-hour toast to Charles M. and Rebecca Vest, known fondly as Chuck and Becky, in honor of their 14 years at MIT.
Hundreds paid tribute to "The Vest Years" during a 70-minute program in the Kirsch Auditorium and a two-hour festival on the "student street" inside the Stata Center on Saturday, Sept. 18. Professors, students, staff and their families greeted the honored guests on that rainy afternoon as they walked along the indoor street lined with food stalls, games, jazz combos, a cappella singing groups, and even a 12-foot-tall Elvis impersonator.
In the program portion of the day, speakers representing the entire MIT community honored the man who described himself as MIT's "chief symbol" of the last decade and a half. Host Philip Khoury, dean of the School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, noted what all had come for--to "pay tribute to Chuck Vest and his 14 superb and exciting years" as MIT president.
Though the Vests have hosted many celebrations for various honorees in more than a dozen years, this was the first in their honor since the Vest inauguration in 1991.
Among the highlights of the speaking program were:
- A presentation by David Briggs, director of Lincoln Laboratory, naming asteroid number 32222 "situated about a third of the way between Mars and Jupiter" after Charles M. Vest;
- Professor Anne McCants' announcement that "Chuck Vest has been selected into the Xi Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa," the organization of which Becky Vest has been a member since the two dated at the University of West Virginia;
- An official notice from Dean of Admissions Marilee Jones that Chuck Vest has now been admitted to MIT "with the application fee waived."
Vest was also given a symbolic key to his new office, on the sixth floor of the Stata Center.
Representing MIT students, Erich Caulfield, a graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science, introduced Vest to an appreciative crowd. Caulfield reminded the audience that at the 2004 Commencement ceremony, Vest had expressed his gratitude that he would never again have to follow the eloquent graduate student to a podium.
Caulfield, who peppered his praise of Vest in bursts of amusing alliterative phrases, ended in a more serious tone. "Thank goodness we've had a chance to live and learn at the MIT that Chuck built," Caulfield said.
Greeted with a standing ovation, Vest, in his trademark humble tones, thanked all for "coming out on such a miserable day and making it so bright inside for us."
He also noted that he and Becky have enjoyed "a 14-year honeymoon at MIT and we are privileged to share our lives with you."
He went on to thank the many people "who do not have fancy titles" at MIT and listed plumbers, exterminators, "and the MIT police who saved Becky's life." He also expressed a special thanks to his longtime personal assistant, Laura Mersky, who sat in the audience.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 22, 2004 (download PDF).