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Return to the Entry "Fifty years (ter)".

Remarks made by Bob Johnson in presenting the class gift

The attendees at the luncheon were moved by the impassioned speech made by Class of 1963's Reunion Gift Committee co-chair Bob Johnson in presenting our gift to president Reif.  You can find a copy of his remarks below:

Bob Johnson delivering his remarksThe Class of 1963 is paying $8 million a minute to bring you this message.   That is more than any Super Bowl ad ever cost.    So pay attention!

23 months before we came to MIT, there was Sputnik. We were 16 years old.  The ensuing Space Race profoundly changed science education and research.  12 years later, 2 men walked on the moon.

The next 30-35 years was a period of great economic and technological progress.  But in recent years we find support for fundamental research in the US shrinking, and the outlook is poor.  Our K-12 education is stuck in a time warp, producing citizens not ready for the world's economy.

I am reminded of the teacher who asked her class on the first day of school "What is the difference between ignorance and apathy?"  A boy raised his hand and answered "I don't know and I don't care".   That is effectively the performance of our gridlocked political apparatus in these our "modern" times.

The extraordinary research university system in the US is being dismantled by a long funding drought.   Our culture does not see the value of fundamental research - ideological belief systems are such that rational common sense ideas are attacked if they are inconvenient or if they don't conform.  Kind of like Galileo, Copernicus, Aristotle  - names on the buildings around Killian Court.

So - what to do?  The only people who appreciate the importance of research and of an education that teaches you to think, not just to look stuff up, are people like us.

When we began our 50th Reunion Gift Campaign, we said "We have to step up in this coming time of need to help save our great research universities.   We are the ones who understand deeply their importance to our way of life and to our planet."  We must be the Keepers of the Flame!

That is what supporting MIT is all about - bringing the brightest students to learn and do research with superb teachers.  And the best professors want be here because the best students come here.  It is a virtuous circle - and has been so for 150 years!

And this circle will be broken by the short term mentality of our Culture - consume our infrastructure by deferring investment and maintenance - fix our bridges only after they fall down;  deny any human contribution to climate change.  Ours is a culture of Now - not for our grandchildren.

Our reason for supporting MIT is not that we should be Giving Back.  We support MIT because it is our best hope for an intelligent future - one that will be good for our society and our grandchildren.  It is an investment in maintaining our research and education machinery.   Just a few short years of under-funding dries up research positions - dries up the production of PhDs - dries up the number of graduate students - and so on.  It will take decades to rebuild this.  And our position in the world will have eroded.  Other nations will have taken the lead.

There are great universities abroad.  But it has been the unique mix of our culture - risk taking, acceptance of failure, social and economic mobility - coupled with our continuing investment in fundamental research - that has produced the American miracle.  A great university in a hide-bound culture where there is life-long shame for failure just cannot compare.

The alumni of America's great research universities must step up.  We must all be Keepers of the Flame.  And Our Flame Is MIT.

L. Robert Johnson, Co-chair
Fiftieth Reunion Gift Committee

Return to the Entry "Fifty years (ter)".

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This page was posted June 20, 2013

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