President L. Rafael Reif’s charge to the class of 2020

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Below is the text of President L. Rafael Reif’s Commencement remarks, as prepared for delivery. The Institute’s 2020 Commencement was held online today.

Good afternoon! And to Chris Cassidy – thank you so much for your very kind words, and for the powerful example of your life and your service. May the global family of the International Space Station be our inspiration!

To the MIT graduates of 2020 – Congratulations!

As you can see, I’m speaking to you from Killian Court. 

Kind of…

In fact, I am keenly aware that I am not there –and that all of you are not here.

Without you, I am finding this experience pretty lonely. I thought perhaps we could find a way to fix it.

But it turns out that nothing can possibly replace the sense of being connected, in one joyful time and place, with 3,500 freshly minted MIT graduates – and the people who helped them get there.

In a typical year, we spend many weeks before Commencement worrying about the weather. But it turns out that, in all the most important ways, the day is always beautiful ­– because our graduates are sparkling with accomplishment and possibility, and their families are radiant with pride.

Everyone looks fantastic – even in those clear plastic rain ponchos.

In fact, at MIT, Commencement is the very best day of the year. It is a day of warm hugs and huge smiles, champagne and strawberries, hundreds of strange and colorful academic hats, and thousands of handshakes (Remember those?) A day when absolutely no one still has to finish a pset. And a day when the entire purpose, meaning and mission of the Institute are embodied in our new graduates.

Today, though you are scattered across nearly every time zone, everything we value about MIT is embodied in you.

Physically, I cannot see any of you. But I would like you to know that, in the deepest sense, I do see you. I see the extraordinary range of ways that you, and your families, have struggled and endured these past eleven weeks, weeks that have tested all of us. (I also see that some of you might need a haircut! Me too…)

I see how you have supported and encouraged one another through all the dislocation and disruption. I see how you have done your best to recreate, remotely, what you love most about MIT. I see your pain in losing those sweet weeks of spring, of saying goodbye to MIT, and to each other.

And I see, and feel, your uncertainty about the future.

But I also see what you accomplished in the time before we knew the word “Covid.”

Right before World War Two, my parents escaped from Eastern Europe. And for the rest of his life, my father would say to me, “Invest in your education – because if you ever have to leave in a hurry, education is the only thing you can take with you.”

To a spectacular degree, all of you have invested yourselves in your education – in our classrooms and laboratories, on our playing fields and stages, and in all the places you call home at MIT.  I am inspired by your curiosity, imagination, self-discipline and drive – and by your willingness to plunge into what may be the most intense and demanding course of study anywhere.

Recently, you had to leave your familiar MIT lives in a great hurry. But I know that you have equipped yourselves extremely well for whatever will come next.

At this moment, I also see quite a few small children out there who are eager for me to stop talking. So I believe it is time to deliver my “CHARGE” to you.

I have always believed that, as members of the great global family of MIT, we must do everything in our power to help make a better world. 

In that spirit, I’m going to use a word that feels very comfortable at MIT – although I know it has taken on a troubling new meaning elsewhere. But I also know that our graduates will know what I mean.

As you begin your next chapter, I want to ask you to hack the world – until you make the world a little more like MIT: More daring and more passionate. More rigorous, inventive and ambitious. More humble, more respectful, more generous, more kind.  

And because the people of MIT also like to fix things that are broken, as you strive to hack the world, please try to heal the world, too. Please help us respond to this brutal pandemic with wisdom, foresight, compassion and science. Help us rebuild the habits of trust, empathy, precise language and thoughtful listening that are so essential to a healthy society. And please help us all succeed in remembering our common humanity.

MIT is now sharing with the world 3,500 new graduates who are ready for this timely and timeless problem set. 

You came to MIT with exceptional qualities of your own. And now, after years of focused and intense dedication, you leave us, equipped with a distinctive set of skills and steeped in our community’s deepest values: A commitment to excellence. Integrity. Meritocracy. Inclusion. Boldness. Humility. An open spirit of collaboration. A strong desire to make a positive impact. And a sense of responsibility to make the world a better place.

So now, go out there! Join the world! Find your calling! Solve the unsolvable! Invent the future! Take the high road. And you will continue to make your family, including your MIT family, proud.

Now, this is not the Commencement Day that any of us could have imagined.  At some safe time in the future, we will hold one of these for you – in person – right back here at MIT.

But for today, I have to give you something much more important than my advice: Your diplomas! So, here goes:

By virtue of the authority delegated by the Corporation of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and on the recommendation of the Faculty, I am delighted to announce the awarding of degrees.

For those of you who elected to receive a digital diploma, your degree has been delivered to the Blockcerts Wallet on your mobile device.

And for all of you, the launch will commence in … 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – NOW!

Bachelor of Science in all Schools and departments
Master’s degrees in all programs
Doctoral degrees in all programs

On this wonderful day, I am proud of all of you. To every one of the members of the graduating Class of 2020: Please accept my best wishes for a happy and successful life and career. Congratulations!

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Stephen

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