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Despite the rain, a sunny outlook for 2013 graduates

Friends and families sit through steady rain to watch graduates receive their diplomas.
MIT's 147th Commencement ceremony was held June 7 in Killian Court.
MIT's 147th Commencement ceremony was held June 7 in Killian Court.
Photo: Dominick Reuter

A persistent and drenching rain failed to dampen spirits today as thousands of MIT graduates and their guests packed Killian Court, sporting ponchos and rain boots.

Before 7 a.m., friends and families of the graduates began waiting patiently in line, passing through metal detectors — an added security measure for this year’s Commencement — before finding a seat in the courtyard.

Whitney King was among the first guests to arrive, undeterred by the weather. His family, from Waterville, Maine, managed to grab seats in the first few rows, and came prepared with ponchos and rain pants.

“They’d run us out of Maine if we didn’t dress for the weather,” joked King, who came to see his daughter Carin receive a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. 

King’s daughter Sarah returned today to Killian Court, where she received her bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 2010. That day, she remembered, was on the other end of the weather spectrum: 85 degrees and sunny. No matter the climate, she said, the feeling among the graduates is likely the same each year.

“It’s just so exciting. You’re tired, you’re in Johnson [Athletic Center] and everybody’s just so jazzed, and you come out here, and it’s surreal,” she recalled. “This is quite the feeling of nostalgia for me.”

‘We are all friends together’

Indeed, as some 2,600 graduates waited in Johnson to march to Killian Court, a buzz of adrenaline ran through the gym.

“I never thought this day would come,” said Katherine Lorah, who received a master’s degree today in city planning. “The first year of this program, I never thought I’d get through it, and now that it’s here, it’s exciting.”

Other graduates experienced a similar feeling of well-deserved relief. Christina Zimanyi, who received her PhD in chemistry today, looked back at the last 5 1/2 years.

“It’s a tough program, but it feels good to have survived it,” Zimanyi said. As for what she’ll take away from her time at MIT, she offered: “Learning to solve anything. Really learning how to persevere and figure out how to get things done.”

Zimanyi’s friend and fellow PhD recipient, Peng Zou, said that support from classmates helped get him through his studies.

“The first thing that pops in my head is working in the lab, where I get to hang out with people,” Zou said. “We all go to dinner together and talk about our lives and our research. … It’s a really exciting, intellectually stimulating environment. … We are all friends together.”

‘A strong showing of morale’

For Zawadi Lemayian, leaving MIT after graduation is bittersweet. Lemayian received her undergraduate degrees from MIT in 2009, double-majoring in finance and civil engineering, and stayed on to complete a PhD in management.

“I think it was a very pivotal place to be as I went on that journey to find what I wanted to do,” said Lemayian, who credits a “wonderful support system” that encouraged her to be curious and explore: “I guess it’s my home.”

This support system was especially comforting after MIT police officer Sean Collier was fatally shot outside Stata Center.

“Just thinking about how close to home the tragedy hit was unnerving,” Lemayian recalled. “But the bigger thing I think I saw was the resilience in people. My professors, who weren’t even on campus that night, were calling me, sending me emails, asking, ‘Are you OK? Do you need food? Is there anything you need?’ I don’t think you get that level of concern in a lot of places.”

Divya Srinivasan, who received a bachelor’s degree in management science, echoed Lemayian’s thoughts, observing that the tragedy brought the MIT community — including alumni from around the world — together.

“There’s just a strong showing of morale amongst both current and past members of MIT, and alums contributed a lot to the [Sean A. Collier Memorial Fund],” Srinivasan said. “The fact that, even when I leave MIT, I’ll still be a part of this community, that’s really exciting to me.”

Looking out at the sea of soggy graduates as they prepared to enter Killian Court, Srinivasan offered a sunny outlook.

“There’s still so much left to be done, still so much to be conquered and accomplished, and I feel like all these people today are going to do such a great job impacting the world and our lives,” Srinivasan said. “I really think this is the beginning, not the end.”

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