Each year, I am struck anew by the high hopes, great ambitions, and extraordinary talents of the newest entering class at MIT. The class of 2003 is no exception.

Although no class in the history of MIT has faced tougher competition to get here, one-third of this year’s class of 1,056 students were high school valedictorians and ninety-four percent were in the top ten percent of their high school classes. Five years ago, we admitted one in three applicants, while this year, we admitted fewer than one in five. These remarkable young men and women will be the stars of the new millennium, and each of them has the spark, spirit, and extraordinary ability to serve our world not only for us but also for our children.

Our students come from an extraordinary array of ethnic, racial, economic, social, religious, and geographic backgrounds. What all of them have in common are brains, determination, and a belief in excellence. Whether they come to study engineering, science, management, humanities, social science, or architecture, they intend to be the best at what they pursue. Despite this, some freshmen are so awestruck by MIT that they wonder how they ever got accepted. We, on the other hand, know that they are here not because we misread their SAT scores or needed architecture majors or people from Montana, but because they have the will, energy, imagination, and intellectual capacity to succeed.

By their work in school and service in their home communities, these freshmen have proven that they can make a difference in the world. For them the next four years will be devoted to more than mere preparation for their careers, for their careers have already begun.

We hope that during their years at MIT, our students will dream great dreams and gain the skills and insights to achieve their goals. Above all, we want them to understand that the world is a place where they have the power not only to influence but also to change — to provide solutions to the most important issues facing humankind. Students can make a difference in the world, and as a result of their talents and what they learn at MIT, they will make a difference.

Freshmen say that one of the reasons they come to MIT is that it has one of the best faculties in the world and that they have the chance to take classes with Nobel prize-winning faculty. The truth is that if you ask MIT professors why they spend their careers here, nine out of ten will tell you that it’s because of the students — that MIT students are bright, interesting, creative, and fun to work with.

Through participation in the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, our students, even as freshmen, have the opportunity to work with faculty in both the laboratory and the classroom, where they partner in research teams with faculty and graduate students. In fact, our undergraduates perform research in all five of MIT’s schools and work in more than 40 of MIT’s interdisciplinary laboratories and centers.

The class of 2003 is like no other, for they are the brightest young people of their generation. They are among the best in the world, and their talents, abilities, and inspirations stack up superlatively against other first-year students in the country.

These extraordinary young men and women are the stars of tomorrow — the leaders, thinkers, doers, entrepreneurs, teachers, designers, and managers — and all of them will make the world a better place. They are part of MIT — a valued part — and have the creativity, energy, and drive to make the most of it.