President L. Rafael Reif’s charge to the Class of 2022

President L. Rafael Reif

MIT News Office

May 27, 2022

Below is the text of President L. Rafael Reif’s Commencement remarks, as prepared for delivery today.

To the graduates of 2022:  Congratulations!  My job today is to deliver a “charge” to you… and I will get to that in a minute. But first, I want to recognize the people who helped you charge this far!

  • To everyone who came here this morning, to celebrate our graduates – welcome to MIT! 
  • To everyone joining us online, from around the world ­– we are so happy you could be with us!
  • And to the parents and families of today’s graduates, here and everywhere: A huge “Congratulations” to you as well!  This day is the joyful result of your loving support and sacrifice. And for that, you have our deepest respect and admiration. I also know that a few years ago, many of you may have thought that you had succeeded in sending your offspring away for college or graduate school. But things did not
    turn out exactly that way. So please know how much we appreciate you!

Now, to our new graduates. It has always puzzled me when events like this are referred to as “Commencement Exercises,” because they involve so much sitting down!  So I am going to start with a little something to get our hearts moving.

At MIT, one thing we understand is the importance of distinguishing the signal from the noise.  But sometimes, if the noise is noisy enough, it actually becomes the signal!

We all know that getting through MIT is not a “solo performance.” In fact, it usually takes an orchestra of loving assistance! So I would like each of you to hold in your mind now all the people who helped you along the way: your family, your role models, your professors and teaching assistants, your friends.  In a moment, I hope that, together, we can send them a signal ­– in a very noisy way.

To do that, you will need to say two words, as loud as you can: “Thank you!”  You got it? Just those two words, “Thank you!” OK, now, ready? On the count of three: One, two, three – THANK YOU!

Hmm. You are lucky I had already agreed to grade this Pass/No Record. That first attempt was pretty good, but you can do better. I believe in you!  so I am going to give you another chance.

And this time, let’s try it with your hands up in the air! All the way up!  Now, nice and loud, so it’s even noisy for the people online. OK – one, two, three: THANK YOU!

And thank you right back!

So, why did I ask you to do that? I knew it would create a brief pleasant sensation for the people you love.  But I was also after something deeper. Just ask anyone from Brain and Cognitive Sciences (Course….? That’s right, Course 9!). As anyone from Course 9 can tell you, research indicates that simply expressing gratitude does wonderful things to your brain.

It gets different parts of your brain to act in a synchronized way! It lights up reward pathways!  It even gives you a little shot of dopamine! In other words, expressing gratitude and appreciation for other people is good for our brains – and it is very good for our hearts.

We are living in a difficult and complicated moment in history. All of us could use a reliable device for feeling better.  So now – thanks to brain science! – you have one! The Gratitude Amplifier is unbreakable. Its battery never dies, and it will never try to sell you anything. You can use it every day, forever – and it’s free! It is a graduation present you can take with you anywhere, even if all your moving boxes are already taped shut.

I am so extremely grateful to have all of you here on Killian Court, on this wonderful day, for this tremendously important occasion.

I expect that those of you graduating may come to this day with mixed feelings: with excitement for your next steps, but with the sense that you did not get enough time on campus – time with your professors, and especially with each other.

For that reason, I am particularly grateful that you are here in person. And, looking back, I am also grateful for how much I have learned from members of this class.

I want to focus on one effort that several of today’s graduates helped to lead – an effort to create an antidote to intensity.

We all know that MIT is intense. That is part of why we love it: MIT attracts intense people (like all of you!) – and then we push each other, and we inspire each other, intensely.

But everyone needs a break from the intensity sometimes. Different students find different ways to relieve it – Music! Sports! Ballroom dancing! And some students even find relief by inventing ways to relieve stress for other people.

A few years ago, before the pandemic, a group of students on the Undergraduate Association looked around and concluded that what MIT really needed was a casual place, in the middle of campus, where students could stop, relax, hang out, study if need be and get free food, 24 hours a day.

When a space freed up in Room 26-110, the Banana Lounge was born!

Yes, the Banana Lounge. For those who have not been there yet: The Banana Lounge is a long, sunny room, near the main campus crossroads. It is full of colorful paintings, great big leafy plants, Lego sets, bean-bag chairs – and boxes and boxes of bananas.

Now, as a native of Venezuela, I take certain things very seriously, and one of them is tropical fruit. If they had asked me, it would have been all about mangoes! But of course, with a mango, there is that huge, slippery, ridiculous seed; as the students determined very quickly, the mango simply cannot compete with the elegant engineering of the seedless, self-packaged banana.

In its charming quirkiness, the Banana Lounge is “very MIT.” And it turns out to be “very MIT” in every other way, too.

  • The students began with a prototype lounge, tested it in real-world conditions and optimized it for efficiency and comfort.
  • They evaluated competing fruit for comparative nutritional content, analyzed alternative supply chains, determined the ideal green/yellow ratio in purchasing and worked to minimize the per-banana unit cost.
  • They tracked and calibrated the temperature and humidity of their banana inventory in real time, online, and they established protocols to freeze excess supply and to capture the value
    as banana bread.
  • They secured funding from a very generous member of the Class of 1987, Brad Feld (who paid for all of this year’s bananas! Thank you, Brad!)  
  • And they developed the cutting-edge concept of “free coffee,” which, in their words, was “critical to stimulating the lounge atmosphere and promoting conversation.”

Already, the lounge has served more than five-hundred-thousand bananas! (Two of which were mine…) And it has generated a very significant number of banana-induced naps as well.

The students have done all this essentially themselves… applying their MIT skills and the most delightful MIT values. They identified an unarticulated problem, dared to try a “crazy” idea, worked incredibly hard – and in the process, they built a wonderful, tropical, perfectly improbable new MIT institution.  

And we could not be more grateful.

So it is in that spirit that I deliver my charge to you. I’m going to use a word that feels very comfortable at MIT – although it has taken on a troubling new meaning elsewhere. But I know that our graduates will know what I mean.

After you depart for your new destinations, 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.

Our society is like a big, complicated family, in the midst of a terrible argument. I believe that one way to make it better is to find ways to listen to each other with compassion, to focus on achieving our shared objectives and to try constantly to remind each other of our common humanity. I know you will find your own ways to help with this healing, too.

This morning, we share with the world almost thirty-seven-hundred new graduates who are ready for this urgent 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 this community’s deepest values: A commitment to excellence. Integrity. Rising on your own merits. 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. Try always to share your bananas! And you will continue to make your family, including your MIT family, proud.

On this wonderful day, I am proud of all of you. To every one of the members of the graduating Class of 2022: Congratulations!!!! 

Please accept my best wishes for a happy and successful life and career.

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