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MIT Technology Review

Reunion Recap

A front-row report from the Class of 1946

In 1994 a group of ingenious MIT pranksters topped MIT’s Great Dome with what appeared to be a Campus Police cruiser—complete with flashing lights, a dummy police officer, and a box of doughnuts. The prank made the international news. But when President Hockfield recalled that famous hack for alumni at the MIT150 Tech Reunion in June, she made it clear that all that was old-school. She offered a prize to the first group to accomplish the same feat robotically.

That some of us from the Class of 1946 were just a bit hard of hearing in this, the 65th year after graduation, is something of an understatement. I thought it odd, for example, when President Hockfield expressed her belief in the importance of federal funding for the church. I had never suspected that MIT was a religious school. After a few minutes, she repeated the statement, which now came through as her hope that the government doesn’t overlook the value of basic research.

At Tech Day, we learned that MIT has embarked upon a plan to meet the needs of the year 2030. Old buildings are in need of repair or replacement. New buildings for classrooms and laboratories will be required for sciences yet to be identified. The cost? An estimated $1.5 billion in the first decade.

I’m happy to report, however, that the Great Dome is still there and the old Grad House, where those of us in the Navy V-12 once billeted, is right where it used to be, except it’s been renamed Maseeh Hall and now houses undergrads. Behind its red brick façade, it has been completely gutted and modernized—and today it has elevators to suit a higher-class clientele than that of 1946. New buildings abound. On one of the shuttle trips from our hotel to an event on campus, we passed by the new MIT Koch Institute for Cancer Research. A young passenger who works at MIT confided that we’ve been promised a cure in 10 years. Maybe so.

I came away with the sense that things were happening here—happening in an accelerating manner. Ideas merged with invention, curiosity with knowledge. The entire campus community vibrated with enthusiasm, took strength from great technological diversity, built upon the past, and leaped forth to a future that cannot even be imagined—at least not by me, born 86 years too soon.

If you looked across the Charles River on the night of June 4, you saw the 52-story, 750-foot-tall Prudential Center with its windows lit up to spell out “MIT 150.” A screen in Killian Court displayed bouncy greetings from three MIT alumni, recorded in May on the International Space Station. Closer still, you saw a tempting 1,000-pound anniversary cake that was 4.3 Smoots long (+/− a cupcake) and sculpted to represent MIT as an edible complex. With an ample supply of toasting champagne available, you could ignore the blustery wind and forget the years between then and now.