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Hooding ceremony lauds new doctoral students and their families

MIT President Susan Hockfield welcomed more than 500 new doctorate recipients into "a community of scholars" during a joyful hooding ceremony this morning.

The newly minted Ph.D. and Sc.D. graduates represent "not just the future of knowledge, but also the future of the academy," Hockfield said. "These people will be leaders of the academy in years to come."

Hockfield applauded the degree recipients for following the example of poet Robert Frost in choosing the road "less traveled by."

"The paths you have chosen are paths that have wanted wear — things that wanted to be discovered and needed to be discovered," she said. "Thank you for choosing the less worn path, and congratulations for successfully navigating it."

Recognizing the sacrifices made by families of the new doctorates, Hockfield asked the degree recipients to stand and acknowledge all the support their families have given them.

Those families, in turn, acknowledged the years of hard work that their loved ones devoted to their graduate study.
It was an especially proud moment for the Nolte family of St. Louis, who came out to see Adam Nolte receive his Ph.D. in materials science and engineering. Last weekend, Nolte's sister earned her dental degree from Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville.

"We're really fortunate because we've had two doctors in one week," said Nolte's mother, Denise Nolte. After watching her daughter receive her degree on Saturday, "we got on a plane and came out here."

For a while, the family feared that the two doctoral degrees would be awarded on the same day. "What are the odds of something like that happening?" Nolte laughed, as she soothed her granddaughter, Adam's daughter, 8-month-old Adelaide. Adam and his wife Suzanne also have a two-year-old son, John Paul.

"We don't get to see them very often, so this is precious," Nolte said.

Marita Barth's family also got to spend some quality time together. Her parents, brother, sister-in-law and niece all took a red-eye flight from Oregon to see her receive her Ph.D. in biological engineering.

"The whole family came out," said Barth's sister-in-law, Stephanie Barth. "We're really proud of her. She worked so hard."

Barth, who is married to Marita's brother, Stephen, cradled her 15-month-old daughter, Anna, while waiting for the ceremony to begin. "We've been telling her all week we're going to come out to see Marita," she said.

Little Anna was just one of dozens of young children attending the celebration, which offers guests a special "stroller parking" zone outside Rockwell Cage, where the ceremony is held.

The hoods were draped around the new doctorates' necks by Chancellor Phillip Clay and professors from each department that conferred degrees. Before the hoods were given out, Clay offered some historical perspective on the hood itself, which originally was worn as a head covering but now flows down the wearer's back.

A small pouch at the bottom of the hood has no particular function but could come in handy, Clay said. It's "large enough to hold a small book, a large sandwich, or perhaps your iPod," he noted.

MIT hooding ceremonies are often an intergenerational affair, and that was true for Michael Baker, who earned his Ph.D. in electrical engineering and computer science. Baker's father, Warren, earned a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from MIT in 1966.

Today marked the end of a long MIT career for the younger Baker — he also holds bachelor's and master's degrees from the Institute. A large family contingent turned out to celebrate the end of his 11 years at MIT.

"I'm just really happy everyone came," Baker said. "It means a lot."

Robbin Chapman also received her MIT doctoral hood today, but she's not going anywhere. Chapman, who earned a degree in electrical engineering and computer science, recently joined the School of Architecture and Planning as manager of diversity recruitment.

"It's good to be done," Chapman said after today's ceremony. "It will be great to get on with the rest of my work."

In her new post, Chapman is responsible for promoting diversity in the School of Architecture and Planning and creating an overall climate welcoming to traditionally underrepresented minorities in the field, a task she is undertaking in conjunction with other MIT departments and local universities.

"I'm really happy to be working at MIT because I love it here," Chapman said. "There's no place like it."

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