MIT Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Committee

22nd Annual Celebration of the Life and Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.
February 16, 1996

President Charles M. Vest's Remarks

Thanks to the emcee, Yvette Johnson, and to our student speakers, Kareem and Simonetta.

Thanks to everyone for coming.

Underscore importance of the day as a symbol of MIT's commitment to building community in the best sense of the word.

Recognize and thank the following Cambridge officials for their support of this important event:

  • City Councilor Frank Duehey who is also serving as Acting MayorSchool Committee Member Denise Simmons

  • Former City Councilor Jonathan Myers


Presentation of 1996 MLK Leadership Awards

It is now my pleasure to present the 1996 Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Awards, which recognize members of the MIT community whose activities exemplify the ideals of Dr. King.

Awards are being presented this year to three individuals.

The first is Mr. Matthew Turner, a senior with a double major in Architecture and Mechanical Engineering.

Matt was selected for this award because of his sustained efforts in making MIT a better place for students, and in promoting better relations between students from different groups and diverse backgrounds. He is an eloquent and effective leader one who cares about his community. He has vision, and he knows how to bring others together to achieve a common vision.

Matt, your fostering of better communications between the IFC and the historically black fraternities, your work with the Faculty Policy Committee, your service as president of your fraternity and president of the Senior Class, your dedication as an Associate Advisor, and your work as a volunteer in the wider Cambridge community all carry the mark of a true leader.

By your vision and your leadership, you have brought people together and enhanced the quality of life at MIT. In so doing, you represent the very best of what Martin Luther King expected of himself and others.

Our second award recipient is Professor Leon Trilling, of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

Professor Trilling was chosen to receive this award because of his deep and enduring commitment to improving the quality of education for people of color. His long-standing and steady efforts have ranged from pioneering work with Boston's METCO program over thirty years ago to his ongoing work at MIT to articulate and nurture the benefits of diversity in our learning environment.

For three decades, he has worked to create more effective ways to introduce young minority scholars to advanced science and engineering, and to recruit and serve as mentor to minority faculty members. His leadership in such activities as the Office of Minority Education, the MIT Second Summer Program, and the Course 16 Outreach Committee all testify to his commitment and ability to help make MIT a more enriching and better place for all of its members.

Leon, as an engineer, educator, role model, and mentor, you have incorporated the notions of inclusion and diversity not simply as theoretical constructs, but as day-to-day practices in your life. In so doing, you represent the essence of Martin Luther King's philosophy and vision.

The third person we recognize this morning with a King Leadership Award is Dr. Shirley Jackson.

Shirley received her bachelor's degree in physics from MIT in 1968, and in 1973 she became the first African American woman to receive the Ph.D. from MIT.

Her career as a physicist has been conducted in both industrial and academic settings. For 15 years, she was a research physicist at AT&T Bell Labs, and later became a professor of physics at Rutgers University. In addition, she has served in numerous advisory capacities for the profession and for the federal government. She is also a life member of the MIT Corporation, our board of trustees, and has served as a member of its Executive Committee.

During the past year, she has taken leave from these responsibilities in order to serve as chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the agency responsible for the civilian use and disposal of nuclear materials in the United States.

Throughout her career, Dr. Jackson has demonstrated a distinguished and unwavering commitment to physics and higher education, and she has served as a leader, role model, and mentor to so many people at MIT and throughout the scientific community.

Shirley, your dedication to excellence in all that you do is a fitting tribute to Dr. King's legacy.

I would like to make a slight departure from the program at this point to make an announcement. That is the recent receipt of a $1 million gift from Charlotte Nowak Bowman, the widow of William Dabney Bowman, class of 1944. Mr. Bowman spent most of his career as a pioneer in aerodynamic design at Ford Motor Company, where he was head of that section before his retirement.

We are always very grateful when we receive a gift of this magnitude. But this one carries special significance: it is the largest gift we have ever received from an African American alumnus.

In his 50th reunion class notes in 1994, Mr. Bowman indicated that the three highlights of his life were 1) when he was admitted to MIT, 2) when he received his MIT degree from Karl Taylor Compton, and 3) when he married Charlotte in 1953. Mrs. Bowman, who died shortly after making the gift at the end of December, established the William Bowman Fund, in memory of her husband and in honor of his admiration of MIT.

This fund, which will provide an endowment for research in cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, is a magnificent leadership gift reflecting the vision of an MIT graduate who made a big difference in the world and is now making a big difference in MIT.

Remarks on Leadership

Before introducing Dr. Chambers, I would like to make a few remarks about leadership something we have just celebrated with the Martin Luther King Awards, and something the entire country is focusing on in this election year. Actually, that is not what the country is focusing on. The negative campaigning among presidential hopefuls that we have been witnessing in the past few months is evidence that we are suffering from a lack of leadership. The candidates are not presenting visions of what our society can be, or could be, or should be. Rather, most are feeding the fears and increasing the gulfs among us.

That is not leadership, and when there is no leadership, whoever is willing to jump into the vacuum fills it. MIT Professor Stephen Ansolabehere has shown that negative campaigning simply drives citizens out of the political process. They tune out, and they drop out. But leadership and jumping in that is where we come in. It is the special responsibility of colleges and universities to exercise leadership and to prepare the next generation for leadership.

What does that mean in today's world?

We expect our graduates to play pivotal roles in society, to become leaders in a rapidly changing nation and our world. It is a time of change and it is a time for change. Today, about one-third of the students who come to MIT as freshmen grew up in homes where two languages are spoken. Over 40 percent of them are women. At the graduate level, almost one-third of our students come from other countries. And slowly, but increasingly, our students come from a wider variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds. Over 40 percent of our undergraduates are members of US minority groups, and 15 percent are underrepresented minorities.

After MIT, where do these students go?

Many of them go on to become faculty members in other colleges and universities, many become physicians and lawyers, a few enter government service, but most enter business and industry. And while it used to be that the manufacturing industry looked for and attracted the largest portion of our graduates, last year 45 percent of the companies recruiting our students were from the service sector and software industry, many in financial services.

Whatever their professions, however, all of our students become citizens in a world of growing contrasts and complexity. We are experiencing both scientific progress and economic advancement at the same time that there is growing stratification of wealth and divisions among peoples both between nations, and within nations, including our own. We are coming to understand our common stake in the global environment and the global economy. Yet there is a terrifying resurgence of nationalist and ethnic conflict in many countries.

It is a world where the health of individuals, of society, of the economy, of the environment itself, needs urgent attention. We all have a common stake in the solution to such problems.

In such a world, most of the major problems cannot be addressed without science and technology. The people of MIT, and particularly our students, have the talent to discover new sources of energy, to unlock the workings of the mind, to find the cure for AIDS, to heal and preserve the environment, and much more.

That is the mission of MIT: to apply our talents to the problems posed by contemporary society whether in industry, commerce, arts, healing, or politics. Our core strengths lie in technology and natural science. And clearly, scientific and technical breakthroughs will always be needed to improve our world. But more is required.

There is an old saying that a leader is one who takes us elsewhere, that is, a leader is one who produces change in society. Martin Luther King was such a leader.

We need more such leaders men and women with the ideas, the vision, and the ability to inspire others individuals who can employ the tools of economics and diplomacy, the powers of communication, and the ability to integrate the efforts of many to achieve a common goal.

This last quality the ability to bring people together to work toward shared goals will be even more critical in an increasingly complex and global society. The most successful leaders those who not only have the ideas and the vision, but the ability to draw on the talents of women and men from the full spectrum of national, economic, cultural and racial backgrounds.

These are qualities that we must emphasize in our educational programs and in the way we live and work together at MIT. These are hard times. They are challenging times. And yet, they are times of opportunity. MIT is in a period of transition financially, intellectually, socially. How we deal with these changes will say much about the role we can play as educational and institutional leaders.

As we work through these changes, and forge new directions in education, research, and in the management of our own institution, it is critical that we work together and forge a common vision of the future of MIT.

If we can do it here, it will be an important step toward achieving greater justice in society as a whole. If we can educate our students in these qualities of leadership, and if we can embrace and build on the wealth of talent in our own community, we will truly be the leaders our society needs.