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MIT remembers those lost, celebrates its graduating class

Posted by Your Town  June 7, 2013 01:20 PM

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Following a year marked by tragedy, speakers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology commencement ceremony reflected on community members they had lost, while capturing the spirit of the graduating class.

As he delivered the invocation, Chaplain Robert Randolph recalled numerous deaths at MIT this year, including the death of a visiting scientist, death of a graduate student, and the loss of MIT Officer Sean Collier, allegedly killed by the two Marathon bombing suspects.

Randolph said that the MIT campus, previously regarded as a place outside of the real world, is now very much a part of it.

“We have felt that distance vanish,” Randolph said. “This is the real world…there are no safe places.”

In his speech to the class, President L. Rafael Reif spoke of the Marathon bombings, and how he received letters from strangers who had fled the scene and found shelter in MIT fraternities and sororities. They simply wanted to say, thank you.

“A few days later, the tragedy of the Marathon bombings arrived at our own campus,” Reif said. “And the whole world saw what I saw: the extraordinary outpouring of respect and gratitude for our beloved MIT Police. And the loving sympathy that flowed from the heart of this family to the family of Officer Sean Collier. I’ve never felt so proud to be part of MIT.”

At a dreary ceremony, the rain poured down onto the crowd of approximately 13,000 people, many of whom were sporting ponchos handed out at the entrances. School officials were also distributed aluminum blankets, with the elderly guests being the first priority.

Security was tight. Guests were not permitted to bring in food or drink, and all bags and jackets were thoroughly searched. Security guards required that those with a computer turn it on, to demonstrate its functionality.

At the start of the commencement, a brass band played as the graduates and other honorary guests filed in. Guests spoke in numerous languages. One graduate stood on top of his chair, furiously waving at his family members.

Reif also urged the class of 2013 to “change the source code” of society.

“Rewire the circuits. Rearrange the molecules. Reformulate the equation. In short, I want you to hack the world, until you make the world a little more MIT,” he said. “More daring and more passionate. More rigorous, inventive, and ambitious. More humble, more respectful, more generous, and more kind.”

Drew Houston, an MIT alumnus and the CEO of Dropbox, told the graduates to find a line of work that they are obsessed with.

“So I was going to say work on what you love, but that’s not helpful. It’s so easy to convince yourself that you love what you do,” Houston said. “When I think about it, the happiest and most successful people I know don’t just love what they do, they’re obsessed.”

He called building Dropbox the most “exciting, interesting, and fulfilling experiences of my life.” But Houston also said that starting a company has also “ been the most painful, humiliating, and frustrating experience too, and I can’t even count the number of things that have gone wrong.”

“Fortunately, it doesn’t matter,” Houston said. “No one has a 5.0 in real life.”

Houston said that Bill Gates’s first company made software for traffic lights. And Steve Jobs’ first company made plastic whistles that enabled the user to make free phone calls.

“Neither were too successful, but it’s hard to imagine they were too upset about it.” Houston said. “That’s my favorite thing that changes today. From now on, failure doesn’t matter: you only have to be right once.”

Katherine Landergan can be reached at klandergan@globe.com. For campus news updates, follow her on Twitter @klandergan.

Looking for more coverage of area colleges and universities? Go to our Your Campus pages.

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