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Poet Kealoha Wong ’99 to speak at the MIT Classes of 2020 and 2021 Graduation Celebration

MIT to honor pandemic online graduates with on-campus event.
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Photo of Kealoha Wong standing with his hands out in front of a black background
Kealoha Wong ’99, Hawaii’s first poet laureate, will deliver the keynote address at the Classes of 2020 and 2021 Graduation Celebration.
Photo: Ronen Zilberman

After two years of online Commencement due to the Covid-19 pandemic, MIT will hold an on-campus graduation celebration on Saturday, May 28, to honor the MIT classes of 2020 and 2021. The ceremony will be held on Killian Court and include an academic procession, special addresses from Institute and alumni leadership, and a reading of names as the graduates walk across the stage in regalia. 

“The classes of 2020 and 2021 will forever have special standing at MIT,” says MIT President L. Rafael Reif. “In the face of disorienting challenges, they pulled together with equal parts heart, resilience, and dedication — and made our entire community proud. On May 28, with every ounce of pomp and circumstance we can muster, we will at last give our graduates the send-off they deserve.” 

The ceremony’s keynote address will be delivered by Kealoha Wong ’99, Hawaii’s first poet laureate. Wong, who goes by the professional mononym “Kealoha,” has performed throughout the world, including at the White House, and is known for blending science and art in his poetry. 

“We are delighted that poet and storyteller Kealoha will lend his distinctive voice to the ceremony and overjoyed by the number of recent graduates who plan to return to campus,” Reif says. “This will be a joyful celebration MIT won’t soon forget.” 

Kealoha, who was known as Steven Kealoha Wong during his time at MIT, is a Course 22 (nuclear engineering) graduate with a Course 21W (writing) minor. He became a professional poet in 2002 and has been featured on HBO’s Brave New Voices and made appearances on NBC, PBS, Food Network, and National Public Radio. His most recent work, “The Story of Everything,” is a science-based theater production that will premiere as a feature film at the 2022 Maui Film Festival. 

“In all of the events that I’ve been a part of during my career, this celebration is one of the biggest honors,” Kealoha says. “Graduating from MIT is a rite of passage worthy of an in-person celebration, and the MIT campus is an international reservoir of knowledge. I am so excited that we can come together to acknowledge this achievement.” 

The Classes of 2020 and 2021 Graduation Celebration will take place on Saturday, May 28, starting at 10 a.m., and is part of Tech Reunions, which will welcome thousands of alumni back to campus for events throughout the weekend. Registration for the graduation celebration and Tech Reunions closes on Wednesday, May 18. 

“The biggest connection that I feel with the MIT alumni community is the mathematical and scientific understanding that we share,” he says. “Whenever I am speaking with a fellow alum, I know that we have a solid foundation of knowledge to build from.” 

The Institute’s 2022 OneMIT Commencement Ceremony will take place on Friday, May 27, and will feature an address from Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala MCP ’78, PhD ’81, director-general of the World Trade Organization and former finance minister of Nigeria. Learn more about MIT’s Commencement and graduation celebrations.

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Kealoha Wong ’99, Hawaii’s first poet laureate, shares his excitement at being selected to deliver the keynote address at the graduation celebration for the classes of 2020 and 2021. “It’s a huge honor, I never would have thought in a million years that something like this would happen,” says Kealoha. “I feel as if I am ready to let these words fly.”

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