Skip to content ↓

'You can’t play it safe and win’

Speaker Ray Stata urges graduates to find solutions to humanity’s greatest problems — and to risk failure along the way — at MIT Commencement.
Conor Walsh, who received a PhD in mechanical engineering, gets ready for the Commencement exercises in Killian Court on Friday, June 4.
Conor Walsh, who received a PhD in mechanical engineering, gets ready for the Commencement exercises in Killian Court on Friday, June 4.
Photo: Dominick Reuter
A graduate leaves the stage after receiving his diploma.
A graduate leaves the stage after receiving his diploma.
Photo: Dominick Reuter

Don’t be afraid to take chances and even risk failure, Ray Stata urged MIT’s Class of 2010 at the Institute’s 144th Commencement Exercises on Friday, June 4. “People don’t learn by doing things right,” said Stata ’57, SM ’58, this year’s Commencement speaker. “They learn by making mistakes and then reflecting on what went wrong.”

Under sunny skies in the spacious but jam-packed Killian Court, Stata, MIT President Susan Hockfield, and two student leaders all reminded the newly minted MIT degree-holders of the privileged education they have received, and of the importance of using their skills to solve global problems and to make the world a better place. But Stata challenged them to keep in mind that the sometimes-serendipitous path to success is not a straightforward one.

Stata, the chairman and co-founder of Analog Devices Inc. and a life member emeritus of the MIT Corporation, described himself to the graduating class as a “fellow nerd” and said that “as MIT graduates, we are all innovators and entrepreneurs at heart.” Drawing on decades of experience, Stata said that “entrepreneurs have to be optimistic and relentless in believing that they will discover or create the missing pieces, even when they are not sure how … You can’t play it safe and win.”

Hao Ding, who received his bachelor of science in mechanical engineering and was also a commencement singer, found Stata’s speech inspiring: “His experience really relates to ours. He left this place with a very specific goal in life to succeed. He is a great example of how MIT students can go out and make a difference. His perspective of what an MIT degree means is different from anyone else’s in the outside world, and his speech gives us an idea of what that perspective will mean in the very near future.”

‘Dare to be part of the solution’

Stata, whose 1997 gift to the Institute enabled the construction of the Frank Gehry-designed Ray and Maria Stata Center, reminisced about the origins of Analog Devices in 1965, which he co-founded with fellow MIT alumnus Matthew Lorber ’56, SM ’58. “You sometimes don’t know where the path you take will lead,” he told the graduates, describing how a chance meeting between him and Lorber in Harvard Square, years after their graduation, ultimately led to the creation of the company.

Stata said that his advice applies not just to those who choose to start their own businesses. “The spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship applies not just to business, engineering and science, but to every aspect of work and life,” he said. “You are all well equipped to challenge the status quo and to bring about dramatic changes and improvements in whatever you choose to do.”

Stata said he saw cause for optimism despite the many difficult problems facing the world: “When I reflect on the ingenuity of the human race and on the truly amazing things which have been accomplished just in my lifetime, I’m optimistic that your generation will not only find solutions to today’s challenges but you will also discover new opportunities for progress in a more integrated and inclusive world.

“You have a special responsibility to help create a future where every person on the planet can have the hope and the prospects for a better life,” he said. “Dare to be part of the solution.”

Stata’s message resonated with Nancy Day, whose daughter, Julia, received her SB in mechanical engineering. “I thought that Ray Stata was phenomenal,” said Day, who traveled from her home in Dallas to watch her daughter graduate. “He is a real-time, honest example of what they can achieve. I also thought it was particularly special the amount of gratitude that was expressed [during the ceremony]. The mention of the students’ families was important. The students seemed humble, proud and ready to give.”

Aiming for more than mere sustainability

President Hockfield, in her charge to the graduating class, commended the students’ altruism. That, coupled with the power of an MIT education, can create a powerful force for positive change. And such change, she said, is needed now more than ever.

“Today,” she said, “we all look out at a world riddled with manifestly unsustainable systems, from the environment to the global economy; from healthcare to transportation; from water, to cities, to energy — ailing systems whose remedies will call on the core strengths of MIT.”

Pointing out that the world’s increasing awareness of the need for sustainability serves as a kind of guardrail against a precipice, she said “with the particular strengths of your generation, with the ingenuity and practicality you learned at MIT, and with an appreciation of the distant ramifications of present action, I believe you have the power to set us a more ambitious goal, to move from ‘sustainability’ to a far-reaching kind of healing.”

During this academic year, MIT awarded 1,116 bachelor’s degrees (including those awarded in September and February), 1,580 master’s degrees, 17 engineer’s degrees and 583 doctoral degrees. At the June 4 Commencement ceremony, 912 undergraduate students and 1443 graduate students received their diplomas.

Alex Hamilton Chan, president of the Graduate Student Council, in a rousing voice congratulated what he called “the world’s best graduating class,” and urged them to add a third element to MIT’s traditional motto of mind and hands (mens et manus), stressing the importance of heart as well. “MIT has empowered you to be a force for good,” he said. “You are the world’s hope … Make your life one long gift to humanity.”

Those sentiments were echoed by Jason Scott, president of the Class of 2010, who encouraged his fellow graduates to “be empathetic and lead through example.” Scott presented the class gift to Hockfield, who congratulated the class for having achieved a “near-miraculous” 73-percent participation rate in the gift fund — a record. The gift of $32,000 will be used to provide housing for students through the summer, to enable them to do volunteer work or pursue unpaid internships.

Jacinda Shelly, who received both her SB and SM in electrical engineering and computer science, said that “walking up to the stage was the most exciting thing that has happened to me in the past five years.” And Meetu Kapur, a graduate of the Sloan Fellows Program, described the day as “everything I’ve looked forward to” and “absolutely like a dream.”

Additional reporting by Morgan Bettex

Related Links

Related Topics

More MIT News

Iwnetim Abate addresses an audience with other panelists sitting behind him.

H2 underground

At the 2024 MIT Energy Iniative Spring Symposium, experts weighed whether hydrogen stored in the earth might be a practical energy source of the future.

Read full story