May/June 2021Vol. XXXIII No. 5

Greetings to our Graduates in the Year of the Pandemic

The Editorial Board of the MIT Faculty Newsletter

What a year! For many of us it is hard to imagine the difficulties you have navigated through this past year of the pandemic. MIT’s faculty values and takes particular pride in the accomplishments of your Class of 2021. Teaching and mentoring students has required development of new skills and commitments, but it has also been a source of deep satisfaction for us. Your senior year has been extraordinarily stressful due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but as you have learned and grown, absorbing and generating knowledge and new insights, so have we. The future contributions to our communities and to society will be among the most gratifying outcomes of our joint academic efforts.

The Class of 2021 will be entering a world of considerable uncertainty and an increased level of social and political polarization. After the 2016 presidential election, many of our students and graduates rose to the challenges presented by the Trump administration and its method of governing. You joined efforts to protect international members of our community from the threat of exclusion or deportation. You 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 you joined or supported the Women’s March, the March for Science and the March for Climate; many of you supported the various efforts of the Black Lives Matter movement.

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 area, 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 your 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 your years with us, we on the faculty have watched the burgeoning of your many talents, your creative ambitions, your resilience in the face of setbacks, your thoughtful and quirky self-expression, and your creative and entrepreneurial energy. We hope that, as your individual paths unfold, you will put your 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 2021 – 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.