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Hockfield welcomes 'fellow freshmen'

MIT President Susan Hockfield greets her 'fellow freshmen' at Freshman Convocation on Monday, Aug. 29. 'It doesn't matter where you came from, what you look like or how much money you have,' Hockfield said in welcoming the Class of 2009. 'MIT is about raising the bar for yourselves and others.'
MIT President Susan Hockfield greets her 'fellow freshmen' at Freshman Convocation on Monday, Aug. 29. 'It doesn't matter where you came from, what you look like or how much money you have,' Hockfield said in welcoming the Class of 2009. 'MIT is about raising the bar for yourselves and others.'
Photo / Donna Coveney

MIT President Susan Hockfield welcomed the Class of 2009 by identifying herself as a newcomer to the "great adventure" of a first full academic year at the Institute.

Hockfield, who began serving as MIT's 16th president in December, was greeted with warm applause by members of the freshman class, their families and friends in the annual Freshman Convocation, held in Rockwell Cage on Monday, Aug. 29.

Like a scout sending back news of new worlds, Hockfield described the culture she encountered in her initial six months in office and exhorted her "fellow freshmen" to participate in the vital community she found.

"First, this is a place of incredible energy. There is a creative passion, an intensity, and an intellectual playfulness that trigger everything here-the ideas and the innovations in the classroom and in the laboratory.

"Second, MIT is a place of striking practicality. We are all united by a passionate curiosity to understand the world and to make it a better place," she said.

Third, MIT is a community that "embraces and learns from differences," Hockfield noted, even as it unites in values of discipline, innovation and responsibility for leadership in solving urgent global problems.

"You come from 45 American states and 62 different countries, from cities, farms and small towns. You are athletes and musicians and entrepreneurs. You bring the world to MIT," she said.

"Finally, MIT is a great meritocracy. It doesn't matter where you came from, what you look like, who your parents are, or how much money you have. What matters is only how you do the work," Hockfield said.

Hockfield portrayed the culture of work at MIT as one that balances personal competitiveness with interpersonal and interdisciplinary collaboration.

"MIT is about raising the bar. You will raise the bar for yourselves, and you will raise the bar for one another. Success here is measured not only by what you achieve on your own, but also by how many people you bring along with you. Collaboration is an important part of MIT culture, and we know you will choose to push yourselves and one another to meet MIT's and the world's challenges," she said.

To illustrate how campus architecture fosters collaboration, Hockfield referred the thousand newcomers to the Infinite Corridor, the "spine" that connects the buildings known as the Main Group. These were designed, she said, "without internal boundaries-so that people interested in similar problems can work together freely, across what might otherwise be disciplinary divides."

Hockfield's scouting report on the landscape ahead also focused on MIT's "distinctive mission of service to the nation and to the world."

She cited examples of MIT "serving society and inventing the future"--such as the development by MIT scientists of radar, synthetic penicillin, strobe photography, the World Wide Web, Bose speakers, the science and engineering for new cancer therapies, and the "hologram on your credit cards"--highlighting the Institute's commitment to innovation, practicality and service to humanity.

"Your turn is next. The world looks to you to lead in designing solutions to our pressing challenges--sustainable energy, contagious diseases and urban sprawl. Our mission is to teach you to make the world that will be and to be leaders of that world," she declared.

Hockfield added one caveat to her comments on the adventure of the coming year, placing this remarkable group's high school achievements--90 percent were in the top 5 percent of their class--into a new perspective.

"This is not high school '2.0,' no matter how demanding your high school was. MIT is a uniquely intense environment. That intensity is driven by the passion of the people who work and study here.

"Our history demonstrates again and again that when our nation or the world confronts a major challenge, they look to MIT to solve it. Now you become a part of that glorious MIT history," she said.

Hockfield signed her own name in the "Book of the Class of 2009," presented to her by the four Student Orientation Coordinators, Tim Pennington, a senior in ocean engineering, Shannon Turner, a senior in mechanical engineering, Amanda Hunter, a junior in management, and Brian Greviskes, a sophomore in mechanical engineering.

Chancellor Phillip L. Clay, professor of urban planning, and Dean of Science Robert Silbey, Class of 1942 Professor of Chemistry, greeted the crowd in Rockwell with two views of MIT life.

Clay portrayed the personal and educational journey ahead for the Class of 2009 and their families, and Silbey provided an overview of recent work on the Educational Commons, including a summary of General Institute Requirements.

"A long family journey, starting 17 or 18 years ago, prepared your child to be a leader. Keep the deep well they drew on fresh! They will return to it again and again," Clay said.

"To the Class of 2009, remember those who smile on your arrival here, all the coaches and teachers who supported you along the way.

"You have left the pond in which you sailed comfortably and confidently. You were solitary travelers. In the next four years, you will join many communities, and you will create a few. We look forward to meeting you along the way," he said.

Silbey described MIT's academic program, noting its strength in the "balance" of required courses and in preparing students "for leadership roles and exposure to issues outside science and engineering." And, he encouraged the freshmen to take advantage of Boston's cultural and sports offerings.

"Life at MIT is not all studying," he said.

Class of 2009 by the numbers

998 - students in the incoming freshman class
216 - freshmen ranked number one in their high school class
53% - participated in a varsity sport in high school
93% - performed community service

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 14, 2005 (download PDF).

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