"If you have a great and innovative idea, we want to help you
make it happen. It does not matter whether your field is electrical
engineering or French culture or architecture or biology or economics.
You are here, and not at some other university, because you are both
brilliant AND a little quirky, disciplined AND restless, dedicated AND
idealistic. That is what it will take to change the world.
Welcome — you have a home at MIT."
About the 2010 Freshman Convocation
Dr. Hockfield's Speech | 2010 Freshman Convocation
MIT formally welcomes the Class of 2014
Freshman Convocation Speech
Deborah K. Fitzgerald, Kenan Sahin Dean
MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences
29 August 2010
Thank you Chancellor Clay, President Hockfield, Mr. Popadic and Mr. Parzuchowski — and welcome to the Class of 2014 and your families.
Speaking as a professor and dean, I want to tell you that the MIT faculty are as eager to find out what you are like as you are excited to find out what they are like.
Like you, they are a little sorry to see the summer come to an end, a little wistful already for those long days with their families at the beach, working at the computer late in the evening, near an open window with millions of crickets chirping outside, visiting relatives in Milwaukee or Mumbai or Caracas or Palo Alto or Hong Kong.
Getting to know you
And yet the faculty are, like you, getting restless for the first days of the fall term. They want to check out their new power point slides, their new teaching assistants, and of course you — their new students. They want to see who you are, and what makes you tick, and how much you already know, and how much further you can go.
There are a few things that the faculty can count on: they know that you are really really smart, and can do just about anything you put your mind to. They know that you are extremely disciplined, or you would not be here. They know that you like a challenge, and that you are hoping that MIT will throw a few curve balls your way—and also help you figure out how to HIT a curve ball.
They know that you are “Renaissance people,” interested and skilled in lots of things, not all that eager to enter the silo of specialization. They know that you are goal-oriented, that you like to set your sights on tough problems.
But there are a few things that the faculty don’t know. They don’t know what makes you tick. They don’t know why, deep down, you are motivated by calculus, by computer games, by Shakespeare’s sonnets. They don’t know, in other words, what motivates you in a fundamental way.
For the first time — living on your own, with a chance to think about your future
So far in your academic like, the thing that has made you happiest has been success — winning a contest, acing an exam, taking home the prize. You have all excelled at this, and it has made you and your families and your teachers exceedingly proud.
But now you are in college, and things are a little different. You will still win prizes and honors galore — it is in your DNA actually! But for the first time you have a minute to think about your whole life, and on your own, to ask, perhaps for the first time, what makes you happy.
Connecting, discovery, and something entirely new
When I think about my own journey through college, I do think about my moments of glory and public accomplishment, and that makes me pretty happy. But what I most remember from those years is something different:
the excitement of connecting with other students from completely different backgrounds; the thrill of mastering something esoteric, something for which I could not receive a grade; and the terror, and deep satisfaction, of creating something entirely new, something that my parents and family had absolutely nothing to do with.
What really lasts are things that build memories — relationships, friends, spending time with people; working with your friends to solve a problem, to create a new technology, to perform a Beethoven symphony, or arrange the Cranberries’ song “Zombie.” Collaborating, and just plain hanging out with other people not only teaches you new skills but it will also help you decide what your new life will be.
Three pointers for life at MIT
In closing, I will take the prerogative of Convocation speakers to offer you a bit of advice:
First, get a passport, if you don't have one already.
Begin to imagine how the world can change you. If you are from another country, find a new country to visit. I am not talking about vacations here. I am talking about putting your skills, your knowledge, your imagination and chutzpah, to work. Make the world a better place, yes — and try to figure out what “better” means in the first place.
Second, visit your professors during office hours.
This will sound silly to you perhaps; I know that you are used to asking for help when you hit a snag in your understanding of concepts. But I am suggesting something else. You need to forge intellectual connections with adults as soon as possible, for they, even more than your peers, will challenge you, support you, and think with you as you develop your own style of learning and engagement. You need some adults in your life, so plan to visit each of your professors at least once each term. I promise you that you will make several life-long friends and mentors in the process.
Third, get out of your comfort zone.
Choose classes not only because you know you are good at the subject, or only because you love the subject, choose the ones that excite your imagination and ambition, that challenge your comfort.
If you are from Iowa, as I am, take a class on the Middle-east, or Africa, or the Moon. If you are a pacifist, take a class on how to handle pistols. If you are a math whiz, take a poetry class. if you are a history person take a class in management. If you want to really succeed, you must put yourself in awkward and challenging positions once in a while. You must learn how to swim upstream.
If you only go with your strengths, you will always be the wonderful person that you are today. But at MIT, we think you can do better than that. You can change the world. But first, you must put yourself out on a limb, and learn to take a hit.
You have a home at MIT
When I was a new professor here twenty some years ago, the Provost at the time said to the new faculty, you are all plenty smart, that is fine, but to succeed at MIT you must be entrepreneurial. If you have a great and innovative idea, we want to help you make it happen. It does not matter whether your field is electrical engineering or French culture or architecture or biology or economics.
You are here, and not at some other university, because you are both brilliant AND a little quirky, disciplined AND restless, dedicated AND idealistic. That is what it will take to change the world.
Welcome — you have a home at MIT.
About the 2010 Freshman Convocation
Photograph of Dean Deborah Fitzgerald by Jon Sachs