President Sally Kornbluth’s charge to the Class of 2024

“Taken together, in their critical mass, they are a natural wonder — as awe-inspiring as a visitation of 17-year-cicadas, as miraculous as a total eclipse of the sun,” Kornbluth said about this year’s graduates.

“I have never seen a community quite like this one,” Kornbluth told graduates.

MIT News

May 30, 2024

Below is the text of President Sally Kornbluth’s Commencement remarks, as prepared for delivery today.

Penny, and Mikala ­— thank you both, for your reflections today, and for your leadership in our community.

Good afternoon, everyone.

It’s customary, on this day of celebration, for the president to deliver a “charge” to the graduating class. In a year when there has been so much campus turmoil, I may not be able to offer you either advice or inspiration. But I would like to acknowledge a few things that I’ve learned since I came to MIT 17 months ago.

And I want to start by addressing your parents and families.

As all of you know, the education we offer our students is famous for its depth and rigor — and we’re proud of the bursting satchel of skills and knowledge that every MIT graduate carries out into the world.

But the truth is that the young people you sent to us, whom you trusted us to educate, and care for, were remarkable before we even met them.

You certainly know this about them as individuals. And you know the specific challenges they had to overcome. For some of you, the young person whose graduation you’re here to celebrate is the first in your family to go to college. For some, coming here meant leaving home many thousands of miles away. For some, it meant overcoming language barriers or personal hardships. Some faced all the normal rigors of the MIT curriculum, on top of family responsibilities and even tragic losses. 

You also know their individual achievements — how much they learned, and grew, and stretched, and pushed themselves ­– long before they came to MIT. You know how delightful and inspiring and thoughtful they are.

And I expect at least most of you know the particular thrill of the day you realized that they now understood things that you just cannot understand — the day when it would no longer be possible for you, even theoretically, to “help them with their homework.”

So you know them well, as exceptional individuals.

But at MIT, we also get to see them all together.  Taken together, in their critical mass, they are a natural wonder — as awe-inspiring as a visitation of 17-year-cicadas, as miraculous as a total eclipse of the sun.

It has been our privilege to teach them, and to learn together with them. And we share with you the highest hopes for what they will do next.

Now, to those of you graduating today:

With the exception of a few masters’ students, nearly all of you have been part of the MIT community longer than I have. You know its culture and qualities so well that they may not stand out to you anymore. But I’ve spent my whole career in higher education — and I have never seen a community quite like this one.

A community founded on wonder — and wondering why. A community whose version of March Madness is 1000 people staring upward, spontaneously sharing the wondrous sight of a solar eclipse — (and actually being able to explain it). A community that runs on an irrepressible combination of curiosity and creativity and drive. A community in which everyone you meet has something important to teach you. A community in which people expect excellence of themselves — and take great care of one another.

I have no doubt that you’re tired of hearing how “resilient” you are, because of the pandemic.

But I mention that long, drawn-out challenge as another illustration of what it means to be part of this particular community. A community that fought the virus with the tools of measurement and questioning and analysis and self-discipline — and was therefore able to pursue its mission almost undeterred. A community that understands, in a deep way, that the vaccines were not some “overnight miracle” — but rather the final flowering of decades of work by thousands of people, pushing the boundaries of fundamental science. A place that does not shy from complexity. A place that embraces the hardest problems.

You may never find another community like it.

But I hope you’ll keep us in mind as you design and invent creative communities of your own!

All of you graduating today have been tested. By the repercussions of a relentless virus. By societal upheaval here, and by violent conflict and the most terrible human suffering abroad.

And of course, you have also been tested — many, many times — by the faculty of MIT.

An MIT education is a test of endurance. A grand p-set made of p-sets! A test made of tests!

MIT is famous for testing its students — but you have tested us too — from the moment you arrived, to the present. You’ve tested our systems. Our assumptions. Our practices.

You’ve revealed places where our understanding may fall short. You’ve shown us that we need to reflect more deeply and be willing to assess and reconsider long-held beliefs.

In short, the Institute you are graduating from is — thanks in part to you — always reflecting and always changing. And I take that as your charge to us.

So thank you! Congratulations! And best wishes to each of you for a wonderful future!

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