Fifty years after being highlighted by Life magazine for future promise, the MIT Class of 1956 -- which celebrates its 50th reunion this week -- has more than lived up to the honor, producing such successful alumni as an astronaut and a communications revolutionary among many others.
In the 1950s, MIT was being noticed on a national level, in large part due to the Institute's many contributions to World War II technology.
Life magazine recognized the class and MIT in general on the cover of its May 7, 1956, issue with an article titled "The Need for Better Scientists and MIT's Answer."
The article featured 27 photos by Life photographer Gjon Mili (S.B. 1927), followedï¿½ï¿½by a three-page storyï¿½ï¿½by then-MIT President James R. Killian titled "A Bold Strategy to Beat Shortage."
The largest photo was of the Class of 1956 in the lobby of Building 7. "Pursued by industry and government, they are being offered average starting salaries of $425, 10 percent higher than offers a year ago," the article said.
The feature in Life was a thrill for many members of the class, according to Guy Spencer (S.B. 1956). "I would say it was like being on some popular national TV show today, perhaps 'Good Morning America' or maybe a guest shot with Jay Leno. Life was a big thing then," he said.
In the 50 years that have passed, members of the Class of 1956 have continued to distinguish themselves both nationally and right here at MIT.
Just seven years after earning his bachelor's degree from MIT, Russell Schweickart (S.B. 1956, M.S. 1963) joined NASA. Six years later, in 1969, he served as lunar module pilot for Apollo 9, logging 241 hours in space.
Another member of the class, C. Gordon Bell, is considered by many to be "the civilian father of the Internet," said classmate Joseph Kaming. Bell was the first assistant director of the computer and information science and engineering directorate of the National Science Foundation. He led the cross-agency group that developed the modern Internet.
Class member Irwin Dorros (S.B. and M.S. 1956) was also a major contributor to technology and communications. Dorros started at AT&T in 1978 and served as assistant vice president for network planning.
In 1991, Dorros was awarded the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. Founders Medal "for distinguished technical leadership in the evolution of national telecommunications networks and the implementation of a major research and development resource."
Class member William Dickson made his mark in the same spot where he started. In 1998, Dickson retired after serving as MIT's senior vice president for 16 years.
Dickson started his MIT career in 1960 as the assistant to the director of Physical Plant. When he retired, Dickson told The Tech student newspaper that his proudest accomplishment was helping the Institute grow from 3.5 million square feet in 1960 to 10 million square feet at the time he left.
This year, members of this class will don the red coats marking them as 50-year alumni. For many members of the class, the article so long ago proved something they already knew: They were going to be success stories.
"The national crisis called for first responders and the nation turned to MIT. The Class of 1956 was more than equal to this challenge," said Kaming, who is now an attorney in New York City.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on June 7, 2006 (download PDF).