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Pomp and Optimism
August 15, 2007

In June, 2,110 students filed into Killian Court to receive their diplomas and a dose of wit and wisdom from President Emeritus Charles M. Vest, now head of the National Academy of Engineering. Vest spoke of two letters he’d received from MIT. In 1968 he got a rejection letter after applying for an assistant professorship. But 22 years later a second letter arrived, offering him the presidency. “Always read your mail from MIT,” he joked. “There is an outside chance that instead of asking for an alumni donation, it may ask you to be president … or perhaps commencement speaker.” Vest also urged his audience to embrace optimism. Despite the world’s complexity and the immensity of its challenges, he said, MIT graduates can–and must–use their knowledge and skill to “make the world well.”

Photograph by Donna Coveney/MIT

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