On a cool May afternoon that threatened rain but didn’t deliver, an estimated 2,300 members of the MIT community crowded into a tent in Killian Court to witness the inauguration of Susan Hockfield as MIT’s 16th president. The ceremony was the high point of a week of activities that celebrated MIT. Standing as many as four rows deep, the audience heard music composed by four faculty members in honor of the inauguration and observed an academic tradition that dates back to the Middle Ages. Scholars from 61 universities around the world, along with MIT faculty, alumni, and staff, donned their academic regalia in a seldom-seen display of pageantry to honor the investiture of Hockfield as the Institute’s first woman president. But as steeped in tradition as the ceremony and the robes and hoods that signify academic achievement may be, the messages of the day were all about the future.
Alison Richard, vice chancellor of the University of Cambridge, who delivered greetings from the world’s academic community, noted that to solve global problems, universities will need to shed some of their prized independence. “The great challenges facing the world, from the control of infectious disease to climate change, demand constant collaboration between nations,” she said, “but many of the scientific innovations, the policy advances, and cultural insights informing that collaboration will come from universities who are bold enough and willing enough to work together.”
Hockfield stressed collaboration in her inaugural address and urged her MIT colleagues to “tackle humanity’s most urgent problems” by working across boundaries within the Institute and with “other institutions in the public and private sectors.” But she also made clear that MIT must strengthen its own community and make the Institute an even more inspiring place in which to live and work.
The following are excerpts from her speech. To read the entire text, go to web.mit.edu/inauguration/webcast.html.
On MIT’s Character: “The MIT you have shared with me is also a place of deep personal integrity, and a place of striking practicality. That essential practicality points to one more crucial factor that can’t be seen from the outside: the wonderful way that engineering, not just as a discipline, but as a worldview, infuses every aspect of life and thinking here. The values of engineering–the rigor; the implacable curiosity; the disciplined creativity; the appetite for good, old-fashioned hard work; the passionate, enthusiastic, can-do, hands-on, fix-it-now attitude–are and always will be the values of MIT….
“It is a complex institution, but with a single mission and with a single, unwavering standard of excellence in all of our departments, and across the spectrum, from the most basic, curiosity-driven research to the most intensely practical applications. That uniform excellence makes possible uncommon collaborations–the kind that push the boundaries. And that common purpose is our greatest strength, because all of us, together, are engaged in service to the great human family.”