May/June 2020Vol. XXXII No. 5

Greetings to our Graduates in the Year of the Pandemic

Editorial Board of the MIT Faculty Newsletter

In other years, this issue of the MIT Faculty Newsletter would be sitting in the laps of the thousands of parents, family members, and friends who would have attended Commencement. We would have expressed our congratulations to both the graduates and their families, and wished them well in taking the next steps along career paths. Unfortunately, the pandemic precluded publication of a hardcopy Newsletter, and this electronic version doesn’t reach either students or their families.

Nonetheless, MIT’s Faculty values and takes pride in the accomplishments of the class of 2020. Teaching and mentoring the students has been a source of deep satisfaction. Their senior year was extraordinarily stressful due to the Covid-19 pandemic. As they have learned and grown, absorbing and generating knowledge and new insights, so have we. Their future contributions to their communities and to society will be among the most gratifying outcomes of our academic efforts.

The class of 2020 will be entering a world of considerable uncertainty and an increased level of social and political polarization. After the last presidential election, many of our graduates rose to the challenges presented by the new administration and its method of governing. Many joined efforts to protect international members of our community from the threat of exclusion or deportation. They became attentive to issues such as immigration, climate change, nuclear disarmament, the reduction of global poverty, and the need to protect fundamental democratic rights. Many of them joined or supported the Women’s March, the March for Science, and the March for Climate.

The values of scientific investigation and assessment, previously taken for granted, have now become arenas for contention and even denial. Defending these values will require the urgent involvement of us all. In the international arena, conflicts among nations that may have once seemed very far away have intensified. We have to take more seriously our responsibilities as citizens to ensure that our nation’s actions in the world increase the prospects of peace and prosperity for the world’s peoples, rather than undermining them.

During their time here the campus experienced a revival in student engagement. Examples include the fossil fuel divestment campaign; the continuing opposition to MIT’s agreements with the Saudi Arabian monarchy; the campus die-in led by Black students; the protest and counter forum to Henry Kissinger’s role as spokesperson for ethics in artificial intelligence; the revival of MIT Students Against War, and many other expressions of social, economic, and political concerns.

During their years with us, we on the faculty have watched the burgeoning of their many talents, their creative ambitions, their resilience in the face of setbacks, their thoughtful and quirky self-expression, and their creative and entrepreneurial energy. We hope that, as their individual paths unfold, they will put their powers to work on solving some of the problems that confront us all, and on making our society more responsibly productive and more supportive of those in need. On behalf of the entire Faculty, we wish the class of 2020 – facing a more uncertain environment than any graduating class in decades – vision, strength, commitment, wisdom, and success, in addressing the unique challenges you will face.