Noting that the current economic crisis is but an opportunity in disguise, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick advised graduates at MIT's 143rd Commencement exercises on Friday, June 5, to take advantage of the skills they have learned at MIT to "write the next chapter of the American story."
As thousands of graduates, friends and family members, faculty, staff and others looked on under cloudy skies in Killian Court, Patrick reminded the Class of 2009 that they were a special breed - more likely to spend their time shaping the future rather than predicting it.
"Be the change you want to see in the world," the governor said. "Achieving any given ideal may demand more than any one individual's contribution, but it surely demands no less."
With today's graduates facing an economy in crisis, Patrick told them not to be fearful but rather to embrace its potential. "Crisis is a platform for change," he said. "Your ideas and contributions will defy prediction."
Some graduating students expressed similar sentiments. MIT students "are really passionate about solving problems. They don't want to just learn for the sake of learning, they want to apply what they're learning," Alia Whitney-Johnson said in a videotaped interview featured on TechTV and shown before the ceremonies. Whitney-Johnson, who received a bachelor's degree in civil and environmental engineering, will study at Oxford next year on a Rhodes Scholarship.
"Everything we learn we have an obligation to pass on and to use to make a difference in the lives of others," she said.
"With passion and hard work combined, you can really do anything," said Karina Pikhart, who received a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering, during the videotaped interview.
The Commencement exercises, which had faced threats of rain early in the day, took place under warm and dry conditions. Just before the 1,065 undergraduate and 1,435 graduate degrees were awarded, the sun broke through the clouds for the first time - an "omen" for the graduating class, suggested Dana Mead, chairman of the MIT Corporation.
'The world needs you now'
In her charge to the graduates, MIT President Susan Hockfield echoed Patrick's call for them to put their knowledge to work to bring about great changes. "The world needs you now as it has rarely needed any set of graduates from MIT," she said, adding she was confident they would "use the talents we brought to MIT, strengthened in MIT's furnace of high expectations, to better the human condition around the world."
Hockfield said the financial turmoil of the past year "might lead you to wish that you could be graduating in simpler, sunnier times." But, she said, "This world may not be dispensing easy rewards, but in its urgent call for your intelligence, inventiveness, passion and drive, it offers you an extraordinary gift.
"To successfully battle the great problems of the day - from climate change to computer security, from healthcare to hunger, and from energy to the economy - will take extraordinary feats of science and discovery, engineering and invention. It will take precisely the kind of innovations and innovators that the world has come to expect from MIT."
President Barack Obama has called the nation to action, she said, and that means it is now MIT's - and its graduates' - moment to shine in service.
"The future may feel like an uncharted new country, but you already speak its language," she said.
Hockfield - who noted that her first full academic year at MIT coincided with the freshman year of the Class of 2009 - told graduates that their moment had come.
"Of course, we are really going to miss you here," she said. "But the world needs you right now."
Additional reporting by Anne Trafton
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on June 10, 2009 (download PDF).