May 29, 2020
To the members of the MIT community,
At MIT, Commencement is the most beautiful day of the year. Even in this strange pandemic moment, this afternoon’s graduation celebration will offer us all the opportunity to celebrate the wonderful spirit, character and accomplishments of our newest graduates.
That joy is and should be perfect and untouchable.
But I write with a heart that is also full of anguish – because it is impossible to face this particular day without an overwhelming sense of concern for our nation.
The death of George Floyd and the events unfolding in Minneapolis are deeply disturbing in themselves. And of course, they come on the heels of highly charged incidents, from Georgia to New York, that highlight yet again the tragic persistence of racism and systemic injustice in the United States.
I know that the pain of these events is especially intense for certain members of our community, beginning with those who are African American and of African descent, though certainly not ending there. And I know that, in this time of tension around the pandemic and rising strains in US-China relations, others in our community are also suffering distinctive forms of harassment and discrimination.
I imagine that you may share my urgent desire to help, while feeling an awful powerlessness to do so. At this moment, let’s do what we can. I believe a place to begin is by cherishing and seeking to strengthen our dear MIT community. Imperfect, certainly. But a community with an essential commitment to facing hard facts, thoughtfully striving to correct our errors – and working together to address humanity’s greatest challenges. A community where we aspire always to treat one another with sympathy, humility, decency, respect and kindness.
Let us treasure and care for that community – and let us work to make it better.
In the days and months to come, I would like us to find meaningful ways to come together to work on these challenges, for ourselves and for our society. I have asked John Dozier, our Institute Community and Equity Officer, to guide us in this effort. You may reach him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For now: I take hope in turning my thoughts to the new graduates we share with the world this afternoon. Today is our beloved Commencement day, a day when we honor the achievements of our graduating students and charge them with helping to heal the world. That charge will be all the more meaningful now, grounded in the very present struggles for our nation and for the world.
With great love and concern for our community and our nation,
L. Rafael Reif