The extraordinary ambitions, high hopes, and remarkable talents of our students amaze me every day, here @MIT.
While our students come from a wide range of ethnic, racial, economic, social, religious, and geographic backgrounds, they all have in common intelligence, determination, and a belief in excellence. Their goal is to become the best at what they do, whether they come to MIT to study engineering, science, management, humanities, social science, or architecture.
The Institute’s students clearly have tremendous brainpower. We might choose any class as an example; forty-four percent of one recent class were their high school’s valedictorians, while 89 percent were ranked in the top five percent of their high school classes. But these students don’t simply excel in the classroom: 93 percent performed community service in high school, 28 percent achieved distinction in theater and dance, and 51 percent lettered as varsity athletes.
For decades, MIT graduates have gone on to become leaders in academia, computers, robotics, art and architecture, economics and finance, politics, and business. World-famous architect I.M. Pei, who designed a new entrance to the Louvre in Paris, Boston’s Christian Science Church, and the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art, earned an MIT degree in architecture in 1940. Jason Szuminski, ’00, became a major league pitcher. And Sheila Widnall, ‘60, who earned three degrees from MIT, served as Secretary of the United States Air Force and was the first woman to head a military service.
In total, 26 MIT alumni have won the Nobel Prize. And NASA has chosen more MIT graduates to become astronauts than graduates of any educational institution other than the service academies. More than one-third of the nation’s space flights have included astronauts educated at MIT, and four of the twelve astronauts who walked on the moon during the Apollo program were MIT alumni.
By their work in school and service beyond MIT, our students have made a difference in the nation and the world. For many, their world-changing careers begin while still in the midst of studying at MIT. Senior Nicki Lehrer spent five months in Ecuador last year and the plight of street children without food, clothing, shelter, or education struck her so deeply that she launched a non-profit organization to help them. Now the founder and president of Children of Guayaquil, Inc., Nicki has secured the land to build a community center for the children of Pascuales. She raised much of the money to fund the project, and enlisted the help of MIT Architecture Prof. Jan Wampler to design the building, which will be completed this summer and will include a library, medical center, community room, and educational classes. Other students at MIT have launched companies, helped change legislation in the U.S. and abroad, filed U.S. patents, become national champions, and performed on network television.
Students often say that they came to MIT because it has the best faculty in the world and because they have the opportunity to take classes with faculty of astonishing brilliance, including Nobel prizewinners. But what many students do not know is that when you ask the faculty what they appreciate most at MIT, their most frequent reply is their delight in teaching and working with the amazing students — intelligent, inventive, hugely talented, hard-working and fun to work with.
For decades, MIT graduates have been in demand by manufacturing firms, government laboratories, and design and construction firms. In the past decade, though, our graduates are also being recruited by a new group of employers — software firms, consulting firms, banks, and Wall Street companies.
Many MIT students will help revitalize the economy, protect the environment, or find cures for cancer, malaria, or Alzheimer’s disease. Some will design the buildings and communities of the future, while others will educate the next generation of students or pursue careers as artists, diplomats, or leaders in business.
The remarkable young men and women at MIT today will use their education, talent, and energy to build a better future not only for themselves but for others. They are future leaders, and all of them have the power to make the world a better place. Providing the resources and the environment for their education is a joyful and inspiring responsibility.