Driving rain and high winds did not stop more than 3,000 people from making the trek to Johnson Athletics Center to attend the Uncommon Block Party, the culminating event of a week of activities celebrating MIT's newly inaugurated 16th president, Susan Hockfield.
Wearing an MIT jacket and smiling, Hockfield entered the May 7 party to the strains of "Hail to the Chief" played by a musician dressed as a giant robot. The party, which was held from 3 to 7 p.m. on Saturday, was the biggest party of its kind ever at MIT and drew 1,000 more people than expected. Originally slated to take place on the Kresge lawns and athletic fields, the event was moved to Johnson when the forecasts starting predicting temperatures in the mid-40s, rain and high winds.
While the wind whipped outside, students, faculty and staff partied inside, enjoying the warm, festive atmosphere. "It is great that so many families came," said Ted Johnson of the MIT Community Services Office and the Uncommon Block Party Committee.
The athletic center proved a good spot for the festivities with its high ceilings and wide, open rooms. "It is fun to use the center in this way," said Emily Paramore of the Office of the President, who was working at the event. "It has gone really well."
Throughout the two main rooms, people mingled, sampling the fare, which included everything from carnival food--popcorn and candy--to chicken wings to Asian noodles, sandwiches and hamburgers. "Any event with lots of toys and free food is bound to be fun," said senior Chris Cary, who waited in a fast-moving food line with his friend, senior Brian Foote. One of the most popular attractions was the candy stand where glass jars full of gummy bears, malted milk balls, and more were available.
Jugglers, magicians and more wandered throughout the party performing tricks. One man balanced a full-sized ladder on his chin before a small crowd of wide-eyed children. An Austin Powers impersonator danced to tunes from the movie. Some performers were hired for the occasion, but 29 were affiliated with MIT.
The hallway leading from the main entrance to Johnson and Rockwell Cage became a workshop area where people could learn origami, belly dancing, stick dancing and more, all presented by MIT groups.
Rockwell was transformed by two centrally located nearly 20-foot blow-up "mountain peaks" that harnessed climbers could traverse. There were also blow-up games, including bungee racing: Two runners hooked to bungee cords attempted to outrun each other before being sprung backwards by the cord. Laughing grown-ups and children alike climbed into blown-up bounce rooms while a variety of faculty, student and staff bands played from the main stage, blasting covers and originals.
The mood was celebratory throughout with bright colors, chatter and laughter as people from all over MIT rejoiced in the new presidency together. "It is nice to be here today. Sometimes as a staff member, you don't get to participate as much," said biology postdoctoral fellow Cary Lai, who graduated from MIT in 1998. Lai came to the party with his wife.
Overall, Johnson said that the committee was "thrilled" with the turnout and with the general response to the day. "It really ended up working inside," he said. "It was a great event."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 11, 2005 (download PDF).