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‘Set your sights on changing the world’

At MIT’s 145th Commencement, Xerox chair Ursula Burns urges graduates to live so that they leave behind more than they take away.
Students in Rockwell Cage determine where they need to go for the procession later in the day.
Caption:
Students in Rockwell Cage determine where they need to go for the procession later in the day.
Credits:
Photo: Scott Brauer
A few students await their classmates in Rockwell Cage.
Caption:
A few students await their classmates in Rockwell Cage.
Credits:
Photo: Scott Brauer
A student has his bowtie adjusted as he gets ready and dons his regalia.
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A student has his bowtie adjusted as he gets ready and dons his regalia.
Credits:
Photo: Scott Brauer
A few students lounge in Rockwell Cage, awaiting the lineup.
Caption:
A few students lounge in Rockwell Cage, awaiting the lineup.
Credits:
Photo: Scott Brauer
A Commencement volunteer helps friends and family of the graduates find their way around on Commencement Day.
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A Commencement volunteer helps friends and family of the graduates find their way around on Commencement Day.
Credits:
Photo: Scott Brauer
One of many creative decorations that adorn students' mortarboards.
Caption:
One of many creative decorations that adorn students' mortarboards.
Credits:
Photo: Scott Brauer
Two graduates grab some drinks before the ceremony.
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Two graduates grab some drinks before the ceremony.
Credits:
Photo: Scott Brauer
Coffee! A necessity of college life, it's needed at Commencement too.
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Coffee! A necessity of college life, it's needed at Commencement too.
Credits:
Photo: Scott Brauer
Faculty chat prior to the procession ceremony.
Caption:
Faculty chat prior to the procession ceremony.
Credits:
Photo: Scott Brauer
Professor Paula Hammond is assisted in getting ready for the procession by Professor Lotte Bailyn.
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Professor Paula Hammond is assisted in getting ready for the procession by Professor Lotte Bailyn.
Credits:
Photo: Scott Brauer
The procession begins with Alumni Association President Anne Street, MIT President Susan Hockfield and Corporation Chair John Reed leading the way.
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The procession begins with Alumni Association President Anne Street, MIT President Susan Hockfield and Corporation Chair John Reed leading the way.
Credits:
Photo: Scott Brauer
The student procession makes its way from Rockwell Cage down Massachusetts Avenue.
Caption:
The student procession makes its way from Rockwell Cage down Massachusetts Avenue.
Credits:
Photo: Scott Brauer
The student procession makes its way from Rockwell Cage down Massachusetts Avenue.
Caption:
The student procession makes its way from Rockwell Cage down Massachusetts Avenue.
Credits:
Photo: Scott Brauer
The weather cooperated for the graduates this year, with only slightly cloudy skies.
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The weather cooperated for the graduates this year, with only slightly cloudy skies.
Credits:
Photo: Scott Brauer
Friends and family watch their students walk toward Killian Court.
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Friends and family watch their students walk toward Killian Court.
Credits:
Photo: Scott Brauer
The student procession makes its way toward Killian Court.
Caption:
The student procession makes its way toward Killian Court.
Credits:
Photo: Scott Brauer
A common theme at MIT: fancy adornments to students' mortarboards.
Caption:
A common theme at MIT: fancy adornments to students' mortarboards.
Credits:
Photo: Scott Brauer
Graduates await the start of the Commencement ceremonies.
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Graduates await the start of the Commencement ceremonies.
Anshul Bhagi, president of the senior class.
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Anshul Bhagi, president of the senior class.
Credits:
Photo: Dominick Reuter
President Emeritus Paul Gray poses for a photo prior to the ceremony.
Caption:
President Emeritus Paul Gray poses for a photo prior to the ceremony.
Credits:
Photo: Dominick Reuter
Ursula Burns, chairwoman and CEO of Xerox and this year's Commencement speaker, right, talks on stage with MIT President Susan Hockfield.
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Ursula Burns, chairwoman and CEO of Xerox and this year's Commencement speaker, right, talks on stage with MIT President Susan Hockfield.
Credits:
Photo: Dominick Reuter
The academic procession begins, with administrators coming through Lobby 7.
Caption:
The academic procession begins, with administrators coming through Lobby 7.
Credits:
Photo: Dominick Reuter
Alumni Association President Anne Street, left, and faculty marshal Stephen Graves stand at the front of the main stage as faculty fill Killian Court.
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Alumni Association President Anne Street, left, and faculty marshal Stephen Graves stand at the front of the main stage as faculty fill Killian Court.
Credits:
Photo: Dominick Reuter
A panoramic of Killian Court during the ceremony.
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A panoramic of Killian Court during the ceremony.
Credits:
Photo: Patrick Gillooly
Diplomas wait on stage, neatly stacked and meticulously ordered to make sure each graduate receives the correct one.
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Diplomas wait on stage, neatly stacked and meticulously ordered to make sure each graduate receives the correct one.
Credits:
Photo: Dominick Reuter
Vrajesh Modi, left, president of the Undergraduate Association, with Anshul Bhagi, president of the senior class.
Caption:
Vrajesh Modi, left, president of the Undergraduate Association, with Anshul Bhagi, president of the senior class.
Credits:
Photo: Dominick Reuter
The Red Coats are coming! Many members of the Class of 1961 attended Commencement and earned their Red Coats (for 50th reunions).
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The Red Coats are coming! Many members of the Class of 1961 attended Commencement and earned their Red Coats (for 50th reunions).
Credits:
Photo: Dominick Reuter
MIT President Susan Hockfield presents Vrajesh Modi with his diploma.
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MIT President Susan Hockfield presents Vrajesh Modi with his diploma.
Credits:
Photo: Dominick Reuter
A graduate has his picture taken during the Commencement ceremony.
Caption:
A graduate has his picture taken during the Commencement ceremony.
Credits:
Photo: Dominick Reuter
The graduates file into Killian Court, led by Dean for Undergraduate Education Daniel Hastings, right, and Dean for Student Life Chris Colombo.
Caption:
The graduates file into Killian Court, led by Dean for Undergraduate Education Daniel Hastings, right, and Dean for Student Life Chris Colombo.
Credits:
Photo: Dominick Reuter
Alumni who reach their 50th anniversary are given Red Coats to wear; many attended Friday's ceremonies.
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Alumni who reach their 50th anniversary are given Red Coats to wear; many attended Friday's ceremonies.
Credits:
Photo: Scott Brauer
Graduates and their friends and families packed MIT's Killian Court during the sunny and warm day.
Caption:
Graduates and their friends and families packed MIT's Killian Court during the sunny and warm day.
Credits:
Photo: Scott Brauer
Among the many graduating students were members of MIT's ROTC program, who wore their military uniforms during Friday's ceremony.
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Among the many graduating students were members of MIT's ROTC program, who wore their military uniforms during Friday's ceremony.
Credits:
Photo: Scott Brauer
Family played a big role in the events of the day.
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Family played a big role in the events of the day.
Credits:
Photo: Dominick Reuter
Graduates wait for the exercises to begin, proudly displaying their new hoods.
Caption:
Graduates wait for the exercises to begin, proudly displaying their new hoods.
Credits:
Photo: Dominick Reuter
One graduate high-fives another on her way to her seat.
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One graduate high-fives another on her way to her seat.
Credits:
Photo: Dominick Reuter
Students' decorative outfits went beyond just their mortarboards.
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Students' decorative outfits went beyond just their mortarboards.
Credits:
Photo: Dominick Reuter
Doctoral students who received their hoods during a ceremony on Thursday received their diplomas during Friday's program.
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Doctoral students who received their hoods during a ceremony on Thursday received their diplomas during Friday's program.
Credits:
Photo: Dominick Reuter
The Chorallaries, an MIT a cappella group, perform as part of Friday's ceremony.
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The Chorallaries, an MIT a cappella group, perform as part of Friday's ceremony.
Credits:
Photo: Dominick Reuter
Professors Linn Hobbs, left, and Tom Levenson talk on stage prior to the ceremony's start.
Caption:
Professors Linn Hobbs, left, and Tom Levenson talk on stage prior to the ceremony's start.
Credits:
Photo: Dominick Reuter
Family rules at MIT: Ian Hunter, left, the Hatsopoulos Professor of Mechanical Engineering, with his son, Nicholas, who graduated Friday; wife, Dr. Lynette Jones, a senior research scientist in the Department of Mechanical Engineering; and daughter, Bridget, a freshman at MIT.
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Family rules at MIT: Ian Hunter, left, the Hatsopoulos Professor of Mechanical Engineering, with his son, Nicholas, who graduated Friday; wife, Dr. Lynette Jones, a senior research scientist in the Department of Mechanical Engineering; and daughter, Bridget, a freshman at MIT.
Credits:
Photo: Melanie Gonick
A graduate hugs a supporter after the ceremony has ended.
Caption:
A graduate hugs a supporter after the ceremony has ended.
Credits:
Photo: Scott Brauer

Under the sunny skies of a warm spring day, MIT celebrated its 145th Commencement exercises on June 3 in the expansive Killian Court, nearing the culmination of 150 days of celebrations of the Institute’s 150th anniversary. A total of 2,437 undergraduate and graduate degrees were awarded, to students hailing from 88 different nations.

This year’s Commencement speaker was Ursula M. Burns, the chairwoman and CEO of Xerox Corporation. Burns, the first African-American woman ever to lead a Fortune 500 company, has been a member of the MIT Corporation (the board of trustees that runs the Institute) since 2008 — and is also the parent of one of this year’s graduating students.
“Set your sights on changing the world — in leaving this planet a little better than you found it,” Burns said in her address to the students. “That need not be as grandiose as it sounds. It can take the form of getting involved with one of the big ideas of our time, or working for an organization that creates decent jobs for its workers, or raising a family that will carry good values into the future, or mentoring just one kid, one day.

“Believe in something larger than yourself. Make a difference. Live your life so that at the end of your journey, you will know that your time here was well spent, that you left behind more than you took away.”

That theme of making a difference and changing the world was echoed in MIT President Susan Hockfield’s charge to the graduates. Recalling MIT’s many contributions through the years in making scientific discoveries, helping to win world wars and inventing “products and concepts that make people safer, healthier, more prosperous, more productive and more connected,” she told the graduates that in today’s world, “the technical challenges that face you may look different or more daunting. But the essential challenge for each of you is the same — because it is still true that along with the distinctive strengths you gained from MIT comes a profound responsibility to use them.”

Hockfield added, “More urgently and in more fields than ever before, the world needs people with the skills and perspective you have gained at MIT: People ready to apply their skills in interdisciplinary problem solving to the looming problems of the planet — clean energy and climate change, poverty and famine, the health of our oceans and the future of our cities — and primed to build an international network of collaborators to amplify their impact. People eager to deploy the historic convergence of the life, physical and engineering sciences as a catalyst for new solutions, from health care to energy to new manufacturing, that will also help stimulate economic growth. People with the insight, integrity and creative brilliance to help bring intelligence to information; pioneer new connections between technology, culture and the arts; and develop financial models to make our economies more resilient and less inequitable. People perpetually hungry for exploration, from mathematics to music to the moon — and people eager to teach what they know to the rising generations.”

Even the invocation for the ceremony, delivered by Chaplain to the Institute Robert Randolph, reiterated that theme: “Today we celebrate the accomplishments of our graduates, who are our greatest contribution to civilization and the lot of humankind. May those who study here pair their learning with wisdom. May they pair their creativity with care for those in need. May they pair their maturity with a sense of responsibility for our planet.”

As the students of the Class of 2011 proudly presented their class gift, in the form of more than $45,000 for a scholarship fund, helped by a challenge gift from Doug Bailey ’72, Hockfield remarked that the level of participation in the gift by the members of this class — with more than 76 percent of the class having made contributions — was a “near-miraculous” achievement. “By a very great distance,” she said, this was “the highest [participation rate] in the history of MIT.”
Students expressed the individuality of their MIT careers in different ways. Roxanne Bochar, who graduated with an SB in aerospace engineering, chose to top off her mortarboard with a hand-sewn cookie, equipped with wings. “I like sugar and flying things, so when you combine the two, you get a flying cookie,” Bochar said. Asked what her thoughts were on graduating, Bochar replied, “My brain still doesn’t believe it.”

Families came from all over the world to support their graduates. Naa Akwetey, who received a dual SB in economics and management science, was looking forward to celebrating with 15 of her family members who flew from Ghana for the occasion. She says her mother was especially eager to watch her receive her diploma: “My mother always wanted to go to MIT — and she might as well be the one graduating, she’s so excited.”


A look at Commencement day
Video: Melanie Gonick

Thousands packed Killian Court, hoping for a glimpse of their graduates as they crossed the stage. Carrie Kuempel came with her family to cheer on her graduating nephew, Jeremy Kuempel. In a playful show of support, she held up a congratulatory, hand-drawn sign festooned with streamers. “We’re thinking it will help him pick us out from the crowd,” she said.

Julie Flingai, whose son Seleeke graduated with an SB in brain and cognitive sciences, gathered family members from all over the country to celebrate the day. “It’s to show support for someone you love, trying to run after their dreams,” Flingai said. “If you have someone who has the opportunity to be here, I think you should be excited, and we are very proud.”

Jack Milwid, who received a PhD in biomedical engineering, says the day marks a hard-earned occasion for his colleagues. “For us, since we’re finishing PhDs, it’s kind of an end of an era,” Milwid said. What he’ll remember most about his time at MIT, he added, is “being scared to death, and then finding a way to make it through and survive, and then really enjoy it.”

MIT alumni turned out for the ceremony, including many who sported the signature red coat that commemorates 50 years or more since their own graduations. Leif Francel, a member of the current graduating class, said “I was pretty inspired by seeing those guys over there in their red jackets. We’ll be here 50 years from now, and I’m pumped for the 200th [anniversary], when I come back with my red jacket.”

Burns, as both the featured speaker and as a proud parent of a new graduate, summed up her feelings about MIT’s Class of 2011: “I dare say that the graduates here today are among the best and brightest that have been produced at any time and in any place in the long history of mankind,” she said.

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