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Celebration begins with a joyful 'Noise'

'White Noise/White Light' lights up May 2 as Yi Fan runs through the exhibit Monday evening on Kresge Oval. The boy's father is a Sloan professor visiting from Beijing.
'White Noise/White Light' lights up May 2 as Yi Fan runs through the exhibit Monday evening on Kresge Oval. The boy's father is a Sloan professor visiting from Beijing.
Photo / Donna Coveney

President Susan Hockfield and her family became the first at MIT to walk through the "White Noise/White Light" art installation, which opened May 2 before a crowd of more than 100 students, faculty and staff to officially signal the start of Inauguration Week.

The installation, designed by J. Meejin Yoon, assistant professor of architecture at MIT and commissioned by the city of Athens, Greece, for the 2004 Olympics, consists of a grid of chest-high rods that light up and emit soft noises as people walk through them. It will be open throughout the week from dusk to 11 p.m.

Monday's opening ceremony stayed true to the inaugural theme, "Uncommon | In common," by providing a variety of "uncommon" desserts, including fried cheesecake, s'mores fondue, flavored crème brulée, build-your-own Napoleons and assorted other miniature versions of cakes, pies and other treats.

"I came for the food," joked freshman Mike Yee, who was impressed by the variety--and the creativity of the desserts. He said he was looking forward to hearing from the new president, adding that he had confidence that she would be a good leader for the Institute.

The evening also featured tap dancing by the MIT Dance/Theater Ensemble, directed by Associate Professor Tommy DeFrantz. The group of three women entertained the crowd in fedoras, MIT T-shirts and black pants while tapping to energizing instrumental jazz.

When she took the podium, to thunderous applause, Hockfield thanked the community for all its support. "It has been one of my great joys to get to know the students of this remarkable institution." She said one of the best features of MIT is the "creative blood that flows through everything we do." And then she signaled for the official opening of the installation: "Let the White Noise, White Light begin."

Physics major Vasudha Shivamoggi said she had heard Hockfield speak before and found her to be both impressive and inspiring. Shivamoggi, a senior from Florida who plans to go to graduate school in California next year, said she is sad to be leaving just as Hockfield begins her time here. "I wish I had more time to find out what will happen," she said. "I am really excited about her."

The tent on Kresge Oval started filling up around 7 p.m. on Monday. Colored balloons were displayed along all the walkways leading up the tent. As the light began to fade, the dancing started.

Professor Steven Lerman of civil and environmental engineering opened the ceremony in his role as chair of the Inaugural Committee.

"Events like these give us all an opportunity to come together and take note of this wonderful institution," said Lerman who called the week "a celebration not just of our new president, but of MIT itself."

Lerman noted that, "All of us at MIT are too often like fish in the ocean--we never stop to enjoy the water." Inaugural week is designed to help people at MIT pause to notice the "things that make MIT uniquely uncommon," he said before opening the floor to the dancers.

Graduate Student Council President Barun Singh introduced Hockfield, whom he has worked with closely these past few months to help her understand the "student perspective."

"Any unique institution requires a unique leader," said Singh in his remarks. "She is certainly up to the challenge of inspiring this institute and leading us forward."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 4, 2005 (download PDF).

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