Category: Commencement

Boston University’s 141st Commencement Baccalaureate Address: Nancy Hopkins

May 19th, 2014 in Commencement, News Releases 0 comments

“Invisible Barriers and Social Change”

Nancy Hopkins
Amgen, Inc. Professor of Biology at MIT
Boston University Baccalaureate Speech
Marsh Chapel
May 18, 2014

Thank you, Boston University, for the extraordinary privilege and pleasure of being here today. Good morning guests. And congratulations to those we celebrate and honor this morning – the Class of 2014!

I’m going to describe my participation in a scientific revolution in the field of biology, and a social revolution that began the year I graduated from college but that you, Class of 2014, will have to complete.

I graduated from college 50 years ago, in 1964. My mother expected me to acquire a husband in college – and job skills, in case Plan A failed.  Just four years later, society expected young women to graduate and get on the fast track to high-powered careers. When I entered college, women couldn’t be hired into most high-powered jobs.  But the 1964 Civil Rights Act changed that. People assumed women would soon be half the CEOs of the Fortune 500, half the scientists and engineers, 50% of congress.  They expected it to take about 30 years.

Change has been dramatic. In some cases, too dramatic: For example, more women than men enter college now. Nonetheless, after 50 years, women are 4.6% of the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, 19% of the Science faculty at MIT, and just 19% of Congress! Why so slow?

50 years ago, people thought all you had to do was open the doors, let women in, and wait: Time would take care of the rest.  They were wrong.  Behind the obvious barrier of not being able to get a job, were a series of invisible barriers. Each had to be identified and dismantled. I hope my personal story of this 50-year revolution illustrates why social change is slow, but also how barriers can be removed.

I went to Radcliffe College (the women’s division of Harvard in my era.) Junior year, I signed up for an introductory Biology class taught by James D. Watson, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA. I walked into Watson’s class looking for the meaning of life. And found it! The secret of life was DNA.  After class I raced to Watson’s office and asked if I could work in his lab. He said, “Yes.” The science was incredibly exciting.  I thought it highly likely I’d make a Nobel-prize winning discovery.  Everyone else seemed to.

But I had no thought of getting a PhD or being a professor. After a week in Jim’s lab, it was obvious to me why there weren’t any women professors.  These molecular biologists worked 70 hours a week.  Their wives stayed home and took care of the family. How could anyone do both full time jobs? So my goal was to win a Nobel prize before I was 30, quit science, and be a wife and mother.

But it didn’t happen.  Jim Watson decided I should get a PhD, my husband and I divorced, and in 1973, MIT offered me a faculty job.  So there I was at age 30 – no Nobel prize, no husband, a PhD and a job offer.  Time for plan B: I decided not to remarry, not to have children, and to accept the MIT job.

If anyone had told me in 1973 that there was anything discriminatory about this situation, I wouldn’t have known what they were talking about. It didn’t occur to me that a profession in which half the population cannot participate equally and also have children is not an equal opportunity occupation.

Off I went to be a junior faculty member at MIT to work on the genetic basis of cancer. I certainly didn’t expect to encounter gender discrimination because science is supposed to be merit-based. The cancer research I worked on was thrilling. In a short time, many of the genes that cause human cancers were discovered.

But it turned out I was wrong: Gradually, I came to see that gender discrimination did exist after all – even for women who chose not to have children. What I saw was that when a man and a woman made discoveries of equal scientific importance, the man and his discovery were valued more highly than the woman and her discovery.  This seemed so implausible that I had to witness many examples before I believed it. There were still so few women in science that it took a long time. But after 20 years I knew it was true.

It dawned on me that this discovery was a profound insight into the human mind. It was revolutionary.  In fact, it deserved a Nobel prize. Unfortunately, as I learned later, my discovery had already been made.  It was psychologists who documented the irrationality of our brains, and our inability to make accurate judgments of even simple numerical facts if the conclusions contradict our unconscious biases.

You can demonstrate unconscious gender bias simply by making copies of a research article, putting a man’s name on half the copies and a woman’s on the other half, and sending the two versions out for review: Reviewers judge the identical work to be better if they believe it was done by a man. Surprisingly, it doesn’t matter if the reviewers are men or women!

Incidentally, my Nobel prize was awarded to the psychologist Daniel Kahneman for discovering our inability to make accurate judgments that contradict our unconscious biases.

For a long time I was afraid to tell anyone my discovery, because in a meritocracy, if you complain of unequal treatment people will say you’re whining, or think you just aren’t good enough. But in 1994, after measuring all the labs in my building with a tape measure to prove that women really did have less lab space than men, I got up the courage to ask another woman professor whether she had ever observed this strange bias.  She had. And so had 14 of the other 15 tenured women scientists, we learned. It was in polling them that we discovered that 30 years after the Civil Rights Act, only 8% of the MIT science faculty were women.  At Harvard, 5%. I suspect Professor Deborah Belle would tell us Boston University’s numbers were similar.

Together, the women faculty had the courage to ask MIT to help us collect data to analyze this problem further. We learned that the unconscious undervaluation of women’s work can cause women of equal accomplishment not to be hired, and cause women who are hired to receive fewer resources for their research. The women were marginalized. No wonder there were still so few women science professors 20 years ago. More amazing was that the ones who were there were so successful*.

Our results became public in 1999**.  We were inundated by e-mail from professional women all over the country, and overseas too, who wrote to say they had experienced the exact same problems.

How do you fix problems this difficult?  In 2001, MIT’s President and Provost set out to do just that. Our Provost then was Bob Brown, now your President.  I can recall sitting in Bob’s office at MIT saying, “Bob, how on earth can you fix these problems?” “Nancy,” he replied, “we’re engineers. Engineers solve problems.”

Over the next several years I watched Bob Brown, the engineer, change MIT, and hence society. In 2001, women faculty were still afraid to take family leave to have a babyFive years later, the problem was 90% solved. Bob oversaw the writing of new family leave policies, and made them routine so today, the stigma of women taking family leave to have a baby while also being a top-notch scientist has largely been eliminated. In 2001, a new computer science building was in the planning stage. Bob had the plans redrawn to include a large visible daycare center.  Today essentially all junior women faculty at MIT have children.  Not as hard a problem to address as we had imagined. Other inequities were also quickly remedied, by committees, which review data and propose solutions.

And what about the unconscious bias itself?  Just two years ago, a study from Yale documented that science professors in American universities still favor John over Jennifer and would pay him a higher salary, even though their CVs are identical. However, other research shows that unconscious biases lessen over time: not because time passes, but because people work for change. Suddenly we look around and say, “You mean women used to hide the fact they were pregnant? You must be joking.”

If you asked me to name the greatest discoveries of the past 50 years, alongside things like the internet and the Higgs particle, I would include the discovery of unconscious biases and the extent to which stereotypes about gender, race, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and age deprive people of equal opportunity in the workplace and equal justice in society.

This is where you come in, Class of 2014.  50 years ago we didn’t know enough to create a society in which women and men could participate equally at work and at home, and we didn’t have the research that shows why it’s so important that they do.

Despite enormous progress, this revolution isn’t over.  There are industries – venture capital, Silicon Valley, the biotech start-ups right here in Boston – whose leaders seem not to have heard of the Civil Rights Act.

I realize, 2014-ers, that your top priority is to find work you love, and figure out how to get someone to pay you to do it.  How can you complete a social revolution too?

Because you’re 50 years smarter than we were. You know this revolution won’t be completed by women alone, but by men and women working together.  Together, you’ll insist on beliefs that are obvious to you, but that my generation had to learn so slowly and painfully.  If you look around and see that the people you work or study with all look like you, you’ll know something’s wrong, and change it. If you see that one group of people isn’t succeeding as rapidly as another, you won’t hypothesize that it’s because they’re genetically inferior, you’ll look for the barriers that explain why.  If an inflexible work place makes it impossible for you to be full partners at home while achieving your ambitions at work, like 16 women faculty at MIT you’ll get together and change institutions.

Completing this revolution won’t happen by the passage of time, but because you make it happen.  I look forward to the world you will create.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

* Of the 16 tenured women faculty in Science who asked MIT to study this issue, 4 have won the US National Medal of Science and 11 are members of the National Academies of Science or Engineering.

** “A Study on the Status of Women Faculty at MIT” in The MIT Faculty News Letter, XI No 4 (1999).  mit.edu/fnl/women/women.html

 

 

Boston University’s 141st Commencement Address: Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick

May 19th, 2014 in Commencement, News Releases 0 comments

Massachusetts Governor Deval L. Patrick

Boston University Commencement Address

Nickerson Field

May 18, 2014

Chairman Knox and the Members of the Board of Trustees; President Brown and members of the faculty and staff; fellow Honorees, distinguished guests, proud family and friends; and most especially worthy members of the Boston University Class of 2014:

Congratulations on reaching today’s milestone and thank you very much for having me.

The main event this afternoon, of course, is getting in hand the conferred degree for which you have worked so hard.  I realize that I had better not be in between you and that for long.  Seriously, giving a commencement address is a high honor but a tough assignment when you know, as I do, that few of you are listening and none of you will remember a single word I say – I should say if you even remember who your commencement speaker was.  As if the challenge of being both brief and memorable was not burden enough, imagine how unnerving it was for me to notice over someone’s shoulder just the other day a USA Today headline that read: “A Good Grad Speech Is The One Not Given.”

I don’t know if I can get away with saying “hey, hey, hey,” but I will be brief.

For the benefit of your parents, grandparents and the banks that lent you the money to pay for tuition, I want to certify enthusiastically that you graduates are very well prepared.  I know that present here today are future doctors and lawyers, biologists and engineers, soldiers and social workers, nurses and entrepreneurs.  There are some loud communicators over here too. I expect there are some who will have more than one career in the course of your working lives.  And I hope that whatever you choose to do, you do it with integrity.

There is so much emphasis on education as a pathway to a good job and I get that.  Given the changes afoot in the economy and in the world, education will be the key to your success and ours as a Nation.

But your education here at BU is about more than preparation for being good employees.  It is also about preparation for being good citizens.

Good citizens take an interest in people and issues outside themselves.  They understand community, in the old fashioned sense of seeing their stake in their neighbors’ dreams and struggles as well as their own.  They inform themselves about what’s happening in their community.  They volunteer.  They listen.  They take the long view.  They vote.

Good citizens don’t just live and work in a community.  They build community.

And I have to tell you that given the level of personal engagement that good citizenship demands, I have been wondering whether this kind of citizenship is in jeopardy.  Because I keep encountering young people who at some critical level are not engaged, not really present.

My daughters are in constant touch with each other and their friends by text.  In the case of my younger daughter she has a right thumb that seems to have a life of its own, flying over the tiny keys typing in that special texting shorthand, sometimes even in entire words, almost as fast as she speaks.  She can do it looking me right in the eye while I’m talking with her.  But when she does, she’s not present.

I know a young man — smart, insightful, wise beyond his years – who spends his days constantly shifting his attention from one smart phone to another to his desktop and his iPad.  He sends text messages, reads and sends “Tweets,” checks his email, surfs the Web – all while you are standing in the same room talking with him.  In all the time over all the years we’ve spent talking with each other, I realize I hardly know him at all.  He was there, but not present.

My staff never attend meetings without their smart phones, and check them frequently during the discussion.  When I’m in the meeting, I ask for their undivided attention – so they wait until I look away, and then steal a furtive glance at their Blackberries.  They assure me otherwise, but they are not present.

Modern society is awash in information and grappling with how to make the most of social media.  It is a force in casual communication, in business marketing, in celebrity.  It transformed politics in my first campaign, in Barack Obama’s, and in many campaigns since.  But does it help us to connect as human beings?  Does it enable us to be present?

Sometimes, when driving in the car, I look up from my work and ask the name of that special teacher we met or perhaps who starred in some old TV show.  If the state trooper driving me that day is closer to my age, he will start to wonder aloud, and add some personal recollection to the subject.  Meanwhile, the young, always helpful aide who is always with me checks Google and announces the definitive answer from the back seat.  And that’s the end of that.  I tell him that asking an open-ended question is what used to be called “conversation.”

Sometimes the open-ended question is not about getting to the answer, but rather about the journey, and Google has little to do with that.  Real human connection, the nuance of empathy and understanding, is often more gradual and elongated than Twitter.  It requires intimacy.  And I worry that the demands of constant communication and infinite information through social media are crowding out intimacy.

Social media, as we have seen, can start a revolution.  But can it bring peace?

You can break up on Facebook or text.  But can you also fall in love?

My wife and I have been married 30 years this month.  Several weeks ago we had a rare Sunday without any plans and we spent the day reading.  Just reading.  We sat with our books in the same room reading silently to ourselves, getting up every once in a while to fetch a cup of tea, but mostly speaking not a word to each other.  We both commented later what a wonderful day it had been.  And I am certain there was more intimacy sitting wordlessly together in that room than if we had each spent the same time apart sending constant emails and texts to one another.

I’m not the dull middle-aged Luddite I sound like right now.  Well, the middle-aged part is accurate.  I love the convenience, reach and flexibility of social media.  I understand the power of social media to bully or to stir a movement for good.  And even I have to laugh at the number of times someone of my vintage asks if they can take a “selfie” with me, and then hands the phone to someone else to take the picture.  (For the parents and grandparents here, it’s not a “selfie” if you don’t take it yourself!)

My point is that human intimacy still matters.  That’s how we build trust, how we convey kindness and grace, how we love, how we heal the world.  And human intimacy still depends on looking someone in the eye, touching them, actively listening, being present.

In the days and weeks after the Marathon bombings last year, we were all reminded how few degrees of separation there really are between us.  Surely, the loss of Lingzi reached deep into the psyche of this community.  But the fact is that the losses  and senselessness touched the familiar and unfamiliar alike because we each knew someone or someone who knew someone who was directly affected by what happened.

One of the duties I assumed, as did other public officials and hundreds of private citizens, was to comfort the survivors, our neighbors and friends.  That wouldn’t work by text or tweet.  It demands intimacy.  Whether healing an individual or healing the world, healing itself requires being present.

So, promise me this one thing:  Sometime today, put your tablet and your smartphone aside, look your Mom and Dad in the eye and tell them you love them.  Hold your roommate’s hand and tell them you appreciate them for helping get you through to today.  Acknowledge to the person you came to know only in your waning days here how sorry you are that it took all these years to discover that the person you thought was such a jerk before turns out to be such a kind and interesting person.  Thank one of your teachers in person.

Be present – and see what a difference it makes in your lives and in the world.

Congratulations, graduates.  Good luck.  And God bless you. Thank you.

 

MA Governor Deval Patrick Addresses BU Grads at University’s 141st Commencement Ceremony

May 18th, 2014 in Commencement, News Releases 0 comments

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 18, 2014

CONTACT:    Kira Jastive, 617-358-1240 or kjastive@bu.edu

(Boston) – Speaking to more than 6,800 Boston University graduates and 25,000 guests at today’s 141st Commencement at Nickerson Field, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick encouraged the class of 2014 to be good citizens and, in a world of constant connectivity, to always be present.

“Modern society is awash in information and grappling with how to make the most of social media.  It is a force in casual communication, in business marketing, in celebrity.  It transformed politics in my first campaign, in Barack Obama’s, and in many campaigns since. But does it help us to connect as human beings?  Does it enable us to be present?

“Real human connection, the nuance of empathy and understanding, is often more gradual and elongated than Twitter.  It requires intimacy.  And I worry that the demands of constant communication and infinite information through social media are crowding out intimacy.

“Social media, as we have seen, can start a revolution.  But can it bring peace?

“You can break up on Facebook or text.  But can you also fall in love?

“I’m not the dull middle-aged Luddite that I sound like right now.  Well, the middle-aged part is accurate.  I love the convenience, reach and flexibility of social media. I understand the power of social media to bully or to stir a movement for good.

“My point is that human intimacy still matters. That’s how we build trust, how we convey kindness and grace, how we love, how we heal the world. And human intimacy still depends on looking someone in the eye, touching them, actively listening, being present.

Governor Patrick concluded his address by telling the BU class of 2014 to “put your tablet and your smartphone aside, look your Mom and Dad in the eye and tell them you love them. Hold your roommate’s hand and tell them you appreciate them for helping get you through to today.

“Be present – and see what a difference it makes in your lives and in the world.”

Nancy Hopkins, the Amgen, Inc. Professor of Biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, kicked-off today’s formal commencement events at New England’s largest graduation ceremony, by delivering the Commencement Day baccalaureate address at Marsh Chapel. Hopkins later received an honorary Doctor of Science degree at the main service.

Also receiving honorary degrees at Commencement were: Emmy Award-winning actor and comedian William H. Cosby, Jr. (Doctor of Humane Letters); Chair and President of the Dubai-based Dodsal Group Rajen Kilachand (GSM’74) (Doctor of Humane Letters); Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder of City Year Michael Brown (Doctor of Humane Letters); and noted actress and writer Mayim Hoya Bialik (Doctor of Humane Letters).

Taryana Gilbeau (COM‘14) delivered the student address.

High-resolution digital photography:

2014 BU Commencement participants can be downloaded at: http://buphotos.photoshelter.com/gallery/2014-BU-Commencement-Speaker-and-Honorary-Degree-Recipients/G0000Zs.UvPsMttY

Password: buphotos

2014 BU Commencement ceremony photos can be downloaded at: http://buphotos.photoshelter.com/gallery/2014-Boston-University-Commencement/G0000n.9tkLR5Vjw

Password: buphotos

(Note: this link will lead to a blank page until BU Photography populates it, beginning Sunday afternoon.)

Complete info on BU’s 141st commencement weekend, including individual convocation ceremonies, can be found at: http://www.bu.edu/commencement/.  You can also follow us on Twitter or find us on Facebook for continuous updates.

Founded in 1839, Boston University is an internationally recognized institution of higher education and research.  With more than 33,000 students, it is the fourth-largest independent university in the United States.  BU consists of 16 schools and colleges, along with a number of multi-disciplinary centers and institutes integral to the University’s research and teaching mission.  In 2012, BU joined the Association of American Universities (AAU), a consortium of 62 leading research universities in the United States and Canada.

 

 

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Patrick urges BU graduates to connect

May 18th, 2014 in 2014, Boston Globe, BU in the News, Commencement, Newsmakers 0 comments

Boston Globe (subscription required)
BU in the News

Governor Deval Patrick stood before thousands of graduates at Boston University Sunday and urged them not to allow the swift currents of modernity to keep them from truly connecting with other people…

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Boston University Honors Three Professors with 2014 Excellence-In-Teaching Awards

May 2nd, 2014 in 2014, Commencement, News Releases 0 comments

For Release May 2, 2014, noon

Contact:  Richard Taffe, 617/353-4626, rtaffe@bu.edu

(Boston) — Boston University will bestow its highest teaching award, the 42th Metcalf Cup and Prize for Excellence in Teaching, to College of Engineering mechanical engineering Assistant Professor Stormy Attaway, one of nearly 4,500 faculty members.

At Commencement ceremonies on May 18th, BU also will recognize College of Fine Arts music Associate Professor Terry Everson and College of Arts and Sciences astronomy Professor Alan Marscher as 2014 recipients of Metcalf Award for Excellence in Teaching.

“Excellent teaching is of paramount importance in Boston University, and we affirm this belief by presenting the annual Metcalf honors during our commencement ceremony,” said BU President Robert Brown.  “The winners of the Metcalf awards are exemplary teachers and mentors.”

The Metcalf Cup carries with it a prize of $10,000.  The Metcalf Award winners each receive a prize of $5,000.  Students, faculty and alumni nominate candidates for the awards established in 1973 by a gift from the late Boston University Board of Trustees chairman emeritus Arthur G.B. Metcalf.

 

Stormy Attaway

“I love to teach, and even more, I love to enable others to learn,” said Attaway, whose work focuses on the fundamentals of engineering computing and integration of new technologies to enhance teaching.  “The new digital initiatives will transform how we learn.  I am pleased to be an early adopter, and I have never been more excited than I am now about the prospects for enhanced learning environments.”

Attaway grew up in Hilton Head, South Carolina, and now lives in Greenville, New Hampshire.  She earned B.S. from the University of South Carolina and both her master’s and doctorate at Boston University.  She joined the Boston University faculty in 1986.

 

Terry Everson

            “I truly enjoy music,” said Everson, an internationally renowned trumpet soloist, educator, composer/arranger, conductor, and church musician whose teaching concentrates on developing students into skilled brass musicians.  “I’ve discovered the joy in teaching and coaching, listening to my students put their own personal stamps on music I’ve loved for years, getting a fresh vicarious thrill as they make many of the same discoveries I did at their age, and often being awakened to ideas that had never occurred to me before.”

Born and raised in Sandusky, Ohio, Everson now lives in Framingham, Massachusetts.   He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Ohio State University.  He joined the Boston University faculty in 1999.

           

Alan Marscher

            “My task … is to inform the students as broadly as possible what science has figured out about the universe, how it has done so, what challenges to our understanding remain, and how our scientific knowledge relates to larger issues faced by humanity,” said Marscher, whose research explores high-energy astrophysics and the nature of extraglactic phenomena like black holes and exploding stars, but who became an academic star teaching his core curriculum and cosmology courses for non-science majors.

Marscher grew up in a suburb of Utica, New York, and now lives in Wayland, Massachusetts.  He earned a bachelor of science degree from Cornell University and both a master’s and doctorate from the University of Virginia.  He joined the Boston University faculty in 1981.

 

Founded in 1839, Boston University is an internationally recognized institution of higher education and research.  With more than 33,000 students, it is the fourth-largest independent university in the United States.  BU consists of 16 schools and colleges, along with a number of multi-disciplinary centers and institutes integral to the University’s research and teaching mission.  In 2012, BU joined the Association of American Universities (AAU), a consortium of 62 leading research universities in the United States and Canada.

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Note to editors:  High-resolution digital photographs of the 2014 Metcalf Cup and Prize winner and the Metcalf Award winners are available — password “Metcalf” — at http://buphotos.photoshelter.com/gallery/2014-Metcalf-Award-Winners/G0000QUDesneCFSo

At commencement, BU honors the fallen

May 20th, 2013 in 2013, Boston Globe, BU in the News, Commencement, Feature, Newsmakers 0 comments

Boston Globe (subscription required)

In a bittersweet commencement ceremony that highlighted how closely its fate is intertwined with the city around it, Boston University bestowed degrees on nearly 6,700 graduates, including posthumous degrees awarded to Lu Lingzi, the graduate student killed in the Marathon bombings, and Binland Lee, a senior who died in a fire in her off-campus apartment last month…

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Boston University’s 140th Commencement Address: Wendy Kopp

May 19th, 2013 in 2013, Commencement, News Releases 0 comments

Wendy Kopp

Founder and Chair of Teach for America

Boston University Commencement Speech

Nickerson Field

May 19, 2013

 

Thank you President Brown, members of the Board of Trustees, faculty, friends, parents, and most importantly, graduates of Boston University’s Class of 2013!

I’m Wendy Kopp, I’m the person responsible for those persistent Teach For America recruiters who have been after you all year.

I feel tremendously privileged to be able to celebrate this day with you, and to be at BU – a school that has given Teach For America – and the world – so many incredible leaders.

BU’s School of Education – where are you guys?  We’re so lucky to have a strong partnership with the Ed School. You’ve helped  train and develop our corps members since we started working in Massachusetts. So thank you Dean Coleman and all those who are working with our teachers and students.

It’s an honor to share the stage with my fellow honorees:

Professor Robert Langer, Bishop Peter Weaver.

Mayor Menino, whose name is synonymous with Boston and public service.

And of course, the incomparable Morgan Freeman. You all know him as a legendary actor, but you may not know that he’s also a dedicated education advocate. He’s been supporting our work in the Mississippi Delta – his home – for over a decade.

Since everything sounds better narrated by Morgan, I seriously thought I would just hand over my speech  and have him read it.

Morgan may have starred in the movie, but I got to check something off my own Bucket List recently when I was finally retweeted by Dean Elmore… The guy has 13,000 twitter followers. Our Teach For America folks on campus told him, Dean, we’ve noticed you haven’t retweeted us yet. He responded, I only retweet things that are witty.

This is a big day, and I know that you’re probably feeling that strange mix of emotions that come with the cap and gown.

You feel relieved – you’re finally getting that diploma! …Except the unlucky ones who accidentally stepped on the BU Seal…you know who you are.

You feel grateful – to the friends and family who supported you every step of the way. Let’s hear it for them!

And I certainly hope you feel very proud. I particularly want to recognize those of you who are the first in your families to graduate from college.

This year, I know your joy is tempered by a sense of loss.

BU is such a large and diverse campus, it can be easy to forget at times that you are all part of the same community. But some events always brought you together – none more so than Marathon Monday.

Like everyone else, I watched with horror as the news unfolded on Patriot’s Day.

As I struggled to comprehend and to find the right words to say to a community that has endured this tragedy firsthand, I thought about the beautiful sculpture on Marsh Plaza dedicated to BU’s most famous alum, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The sculpture features 50 birds to represent the 50 states, and legend has it that when the world is finally at peace, the birds will fly away.

On April 15, that day felt very distant.

Suddenly, problems half a world away were brought to our doorstep.

Dr. King was right: “we are tied together in the single garment of destiny,” and today that garment wraps tightly around the globe. In ways good and bad, our world is more interconnected than ever before.

At a time when conflict spills across national borders and injustice anywhere is a threat to security and prosperity everywhere, we cannot ignore violence, deprivation or repression wherever it exists.

We must broaden the definition of who our neighbors are, and extend the boundaries of our interest and empathy.

You’ve done that at BU, a university that’s not only global but globally-minded. 40% of undergraduates studied abroad during your time here.

And today you join the ranks of alumni who include civil rights leaders like Barbara Jordan and – by my count – at least 4 heads of state. Today you become the stewards of BU’s long legacy of promoting social justice.

So as you continue your journey as BU graduates, the question you face is: What will you do to confront the root causes of violence and injustice in our world? When there is so much injustice to fight, where do you even begin?

There’s no how-to guide for how to change the world. But it’s easy to get hung up by misconceptions about what it takes to make an impact.  So today I hope to make the way forward a little less daunting by debunking a few of the myths that I’ve encountered and heard so often.

The first myth is one I’m intimately familiar with, since it’s what most people think my story is all about. It’s the misconception that changing the world is about coming up with a big idea.

When I started Teach For America, I wasn’t trying to come up with an idea that would change the world. I was trying to solve a problem that was much closer to home: I was a senior in college and I had no idea what I was going to do with my life!  I’m sure that doesn’t sound at all familiar to any of you.

Wall Street recruiters and consulting firms were banging down our doors, asking for just two-year commitments, but I was searching for something I wasn’t finding and I knew I wasn’t alone.

I’d become very focused on education. I felt the whole world was open to me because of the privilege of my own education. But I knew that this wasn’t true for everyone. That despite our aspiration to be a Land of Equal Opportunity, where children are born in this country still determines the educational opportunities they’ll receive and as a result, their prospects in life.

One day my growing sense about what our generation was searching for and my belief in the importance of education came together:  Why don’t we have a national teacher corps that recruits top graduates to commit two years to teach in our highest poverty communities?

Teach For America was a gamble on the idealism of the rising generation.  But we quickly discovered  that idealism is not enough.

We spent our first few years constantly on the brink of collapse, operating payroll to payroll. If Teach For America were a novel, our first few years would have been Lord of the Flies.

It turns out it’s hard to recruit and select a diverse corps of individuals who are ready to teach in our neediest schools.

It is hard to provide them with the training and ongoing support necessary so they don’t just survive but thrive with their students.

It is hard to ensure their experience does not disillusion but empowers them to be lifelong leaders for change.

Many of you are probably relieved to be done with your senior thesis. But, after a quarter century, I’m still working on mine.

We still have a ways to go, but today Teach For America is making a greater impact than ever. This past year, 57,000 college graduates applied to the corps — our biggest applicant pool in history.

I want to give a special shout out to the 33 BU grads in the audience today who will be joining our 2013 corps! And, to the Teach For America alums who I just saw on my Twitter are here getting their master’s today.

Two-thirds of our 28,000 alumni are still in education today, working alongside many others in hot pursuit of a shared vision of educational excellence and equity. Hundreds of them are leading some of the most innovative and fastest-improving schools and school systems in the country. Many others are working in policy, law, medicine, and social welfare to take on the many obstacles that keep our students from realizing their dreams.

And we are part of an increasingly global movement. Today Teach For America is inspiring progress internationally and learning immensely as part of the Teach For All network, where from Teach For China to EnsenaPeru, teachers and alumni are pursuing our shared vision of educational opportunity for all.

We are making progress today not because of a big idea but because of a big commitment.  Because we plunged in and embraced the journey of constant learning and improvement.

This isn’t just true of TFA.

In his book Little Bets, author Peter Sims observes that the most successful entrepreneurs of our time didn’t start with big ideas – they discovered them by immersing themselves in an issue they cared about. And then they kept tweaking and revising, continuously adjusting their course based on what did and didn’t work.

Larry Page and Sergey Brin didn’t set out to revolutionize the Web. They were just Stanford graduate students trying to figure out how to prioritize library searches online. Once they founded Google, they didn’t stop when they had a good search engine. Their drive to try new ideas, evaluate and try again has allowed them to reinvent industries from advertising to publishing.

This brings me to myth number two: that having an impact is about being first. I meet so many young people who are trying to make their mark by carving out their own unique niche. They want to start a new organization, invent some game-changing technology, be the first one up the mountain.

I understand where that impulse comes from.

As BU graduates, you walk in the footsteps of giants.

Your fellow alums include the first American woman to earn a PhD, the first woman admitted to the bar in Massachusetts, the country’s first black psychiatrist and its first popularly-elected black senator.

Alexander Graham Bell was a BU faculty member when he conducted his experiments on the strange, new concept of…the phone.

In a society that glorifies the pioneers, it’s easy to think that an endeavor is only worth pursuing if you can be the first to pursue it.

Yet, the people who have most changed the way we see the world and live our lives – from Einstein to Steve Jobs – all understood that innovation is not primarily about coming up with new ideas. It’s about connecting good ideas to human needs — whether that means borrowing and adapting solutions that already exist or devising new ones.

Our world needs more copy cats.

Bill Clinton says that when he was governor of Arkansas, he was always proudest when his state was the second to do something.  Because that meant an idea could be replicated on a scale that would make a real difference in people’s lives. It drove him crazy when he saw a good idea that wasn’t being copied.

A few weeks ago I was in Mumbai visiting Gaurav Singh and the school he founded in the city’s slums, called 3.2.1. As a Teach For India fellow, Gaurav taught some of the most marginalized children in India – children growing up in dense shantytowns without basic sanitation or electricity.

In a community where few of the parents are literate and more than 90% of students will drop out before graduating from high school, Gaurav knew he had to do more.

He was determined to create the first tuition-free school in India that would prove children from the slums can excel at the same level as their affluent peers. But Gaurav didn’t just go set up shop. He began by studying what exceptional schools in other countries were already doing.

He spent a year exploring 40 schools in the U.S. that are changing the lives of low-income students. He was voracious about building his own knowledge about what an excellent education looks like and how to provide it. “I didn’t want to waste my time reinventing the wheel,” he told me, “but focus on adapting what was working and innovate where I had to meet the different needs of my community.”

When he went back to Mumbai, he borrowed some ideas, like the length and structure of the school day.  Others, he modified, like the math curriculum and the disciplinary system.  And in a few cases, he created his own model.

After just one year, Gaurav has created a school where 4- and 5- year olds who had never been exposed to English before could have a fluid conversation with me. I watched as one little girl stood up in front of her peers of 4 and 5 year-olds and taught the class in English. 3.2.1. is changing attitudes about what kids from the slums are capable of.  Last month, 300 people from local shopkeepers to police officers showed up to watch the students in an end-of-year showcase.

Pioneers are important. They spark our imagination by showing us what’s possible. But if only one person ever breaks through, and we fail to spread those solutions, what value is it to the rest of us?

The people who ultimately make the greatest difference are people like Gaurav, who pursue impact, not invention.  To successfully confront the enormous problems we face, we need to band together in mass efforts instead of starting 1,000 different initiatives.

The final myth about changing the world is one  I often hear from new graduates — that it’s better to wait until you have more experience.

Now, it may seem from where you sit that the impact you can have at this point in your lives is negligible.

But I’m a big believer in the power of INexperience. It was the greatest asset I had when I started TFA. If I had known at the outset how hard it was going to be, I might never have started.

The world needs you before you stop asking naïve questions and while you have the time to understand the true nature of the complex problems we face and take them on.

Consider the experience of Maria Zambrano. When Maria started as a freshman here at BU, she was sure she was living the American Dream. She’d been raised in an extremely low-income family in Bridgeport, Connecticut. She was the first in her family to graduate from high school, and her plan was to be a lawyer.

But as soon as her college classes started, she realized just how far behind she was.

She’d been a straight A student in high school. But, now she was struggling just to pass. And she discovered that all her classmates who came from neighborhoods like hers were in the same boat. So when she joined Teach For America in 2006 to teach English as a second language in East LA, she was determined to be the teacher she never had: someone who understood what it felt like to grow up poor, who would talk to her kids about college and hold them to the highest expectations.

She did incredible things in the classroom, but she also realized how much more had to be done to ensure her students fulfilled their true potential.  So today she is back in her hometown where she’s the founding executive director of Excel Bridgeport, which is tackling the problem of educational inequity from every direction, engaging parents, community advocates, elected officials, even clergy to raise standards and expectations for every school and every child.

Now she knows the problem she first came face to face with on this campus goes deeper than she could ever have imagined when she started. But she also knows that a network of leaders fighting together can completely change the prospects for kids in a school system most people had given up on.

Maria doesn’t want to be a lawyer anymore. She’s found her life’s work in education, and she’s glad she started when she did because she knows it is a long, long road ahead.

So, don’t put your desire to change the world on hold. Start now and go forth in constant pursuit of learning and impact.

I wholeheartedly agree with Anne Lamott, author of the wonderful book on writing Bird by Bird: “What people somehow forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here…  So go ahead and make big scrawls and mistakes. Use up lots of paper.”

As she tells us in those words, if you don’t give yourself room to explore by starting early, immersing yourself in an issue you care about and embracing the iterative process, you’ll never end up with your best draft.

You may well not remember this speech 10 years from now, but I know you’ll remember the events leading up to your graduation.

When you do, I hope you’ll remember the promise that Jing Li made at the recent memorial service to her friend and your classmate Lingzi Lu: “We will keep running to finish the race for you and we will try to realize your unfinished dream.”

Lingzi came to the US from her home in China to pursue her love of math and her dream of a broader world than the one she had known. She was one of 6,000 international students on campus from 150 countries who made BU one of the most internationally-diverse and respected universities in the world. Who made this a college that opens your minds and your hearts.

The world came to you at BU. You saw its promise in classmates like Lingzi, and in recent weeks you’ve seen its perils as clearly as ever.

Now as you go out into the world, I know that you will carry on BU’s extraordinary legacy.

We need you.

Thank you, and good luck!

 

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Teach For America Chair Wendy Kopp Addresses BU Grads at University’s 140th Commencement Ceremony

May 19th, 2013 in 2013, Commencement, News Releases, University Affairs 0 comments

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 19, 2013

CONTACT: Kira Jastive, 617-358-1240 or kjastive@bu.edu

(Boston) – Speaking to nearly 6,700 Boston University graduates and 20,000 guests at today’s 140th commencement at Nickerson Field, Wendy Kopp, CEO and Co-Founder of Teach For All and Founder and Chair of Teach For America, encouraged the class of 2013 to think about what they will do to help change the world.

“There’s no how-to guide for how to change the world. But, it’s easy to get hung up by misconceptions about what it takes to make an impact.  So, today I hope to make the way forward a little less daunting by debunking a few of the myths that I’ve encountered and heard so often.

“The first myth is one I’m intimately familiar with, since it’s what most people think my story is all about. It’s the misconception that changing the world is about coming up with a big idea.

“Larry Page and Sergey Brin didn’t set out to revolutionize the Web. They were just Stanford graduate students trying to figure out how to prioritize library searches online. Once they founded Google, they didn’t stop when they had a good search engine. Their drive to try new ideas, evaluate and try again has allowed them to reinvent industries from advertising to publishing.

“That brings me to myth number two: that having an impact is about being first.

“The people who have most changed the way we see the world and live our lives – from Einstein to Steve Jobs – all understood that innovation is not primarily about coming up with new ideas. It’s about connecting good ideas to human needs — whether that means borrowing and adapting solutions that already exist or devising new ones. Our world needs more copy cats.

“The final myth about changing the world is one I often hear from new graduates — that it’s better to wait until you have more experience. It may seem from where you sit that the impact you can have at this point in your lives is negligible. But, I’m a big believer in the power of INexperience. It was the greatest asset I had when I started Teach For America. If I had known at the outset how hard it was going to be, I might never have started.”

Kopp concluded her address by telling the BU class of 2013 “I wholeheartedly agree with Anne Lamott, author of the wonderful book on writing Bird by Bird: “What people somehow forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here. So go ahead and make big scrawls and mistakes. Use up lots of paper.

“If you don’t give yourself room to explore by starting early, immersing yourself in an issue you care about and embracing the iterative process, you’ll never end up with your best draft.”

Bishop Peter D. Weaver, Executive Secretary of the Council of Bishops, kicked-off today’s formal commencement events at New England’s largest graduation ceremony, by delivering the Commencement Day baccalaureate address at Marsh Chapel. Weaver later received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree at the main service.

Also receiving honorary degrees at Commencement were: Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman (Doctor of Humane Letters), and renowned biomedical engineer and the David H. Koch Institute Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Robert S. Langer (Doctor of Science).

Adolfo Gatti (CAS ‘13) delivered the student address.

High-resolution digital photography:

2013 BU Commencement participant photos can be downloaded at the following URL (password: bu2013): http://buphotos.photoshelter.com/gallery/2013-BU-Commencement-Speaker-and-Honorary-Degree-Recipients/G00001ybJOYubJLU

2013 BU Commencement ceremony photos can be downloaded at the following gallery: http://buphotos.photoshelter.com/gallery/2013-Boston-University-Commencement/G00003HVd5mTkf48

Complete info on BU’s 140th commencement weekend, including individual convocation ceremonies, can be found at: http://www.bu.edu/commencement/.  You can also follow us on Twitter or find us on Facebook for continuous updates.

Founded in 1839, Boston University is an internationally recognized institution of higher education and research.  With more than 33,000 students, it is the fourth-largest independent university in the United States.  BU consists of 16 schools and colleges, along with a number of multi-disciplinary centers and institutes integral to the University’s research and teaching mission.  In 2012, BU joined the Association of American Universities (AAU), a consortium of 62 leading research universities in the United States and Canada.

 

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BU commencement honors student victims

May 19th, 2013 in 2013, BU in the News, Commencement, Feature, Newsmakers 0 comments

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BU’s 2013 Baccalaureate Address: Bishop Peter D. Weaver

May 19th, 2013 in 2013, Commencement, News Releases 0 comments

“Dreaming with Eyes Open”

Boston University Baccalaureate Sermon

(Prepared Text)

May 19, 2013

By Bishop Peter D. Weaver

Chairman Knox and members of the Board of Trustees, President Brown and members of the administration, Provost Morrison and members of the faculty:  Thank you for the invitation to be with you today.  I am deeply honored.  But I really come to honor you for your creative and courageous stewardship of Boston University, which I like to call the incarnation of imagination.

Frankly, I’m not sure why I was selected to speak at this service.  After all, Morgan Freeman is here who has been God – twice.

Thank you, Dean Hill, for the gracious introduction.  My only regret is that my statistics professor from 1970 is not present.  He didn’t think I would make it.  But there is amazing grace.

I want to acknowledge those of you who are parents of graduates – they’re the ones who look relieved, or in some cases, surprised.  Without your love and support we would not be here celebrating your sons and daughters.

Most of all I want to congratulate the 2013 graduates.  On Twitter one of your classmates call you “2013 BU Strong,” although I can tell some of you are little weary.  Was it the exams, or Six Flags, Fenway takeover, harbor cruise or the 808 bash?  My, how things have changed.

But you have shown across these years and in the last five weeks your strength of mind, heart, faith and community.  The choir sang the story:

Through many dangers, toils and snare I have already come,

Tis grace has brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.

As I have thought about this day and this context, I want to share with you reflections on dreaming with your eyes open.

That phrase comes from the writings of one who is a treasure here at Boston University:  Elie Wiesel.  Since 1976 he has been University Professor of Humanities, Philosophy and Religion.  He is a Nobel Peace Prize winner, author of over 60 books, survivor of the Holocaust, and proponent of human rights, justice, compassion and sanity from Jerusalem to Johannesburg, Moscow to the Miskito Indians of Nicaragua, and Bosnia to Boston.  He has confronted the worst in humanity and has sought to call forth the best.

In his novel “The Time of the Uprooted” the central character, Gamaliel Friedman, has faced extraordinary challenges and pain.  At one point he reflects on his hope that he can “dream with my eyes open.”

We have all had our eye-opening experiences as we have faced the challenges of this life and world.

Every time I walk across Marsh Plaza, I am swept up again in the chaos of 1970 when I was a student here.  On May 4 students were killed at Kent State, students packed the Plaza in protest.  The next day the administration building was firebombed here at BU and the deans voted to cancel exams and commencement that year.  Waves of bomb scares on campus continued that year.  In one 10-day period there were 35 bomb threats.

In the many rallies on the Plaza against the war, we would sing:

“Last night I had the strangest dream I ever had before.

“I dreamed the world had all agreed to put an end to war.”

There we were dreaming, if you will, with our eyes closed to the very violence in our own BU world that we probably could have done something about.  The deeds of many did not support the dream we were espousing.

Dreaming with our eyes open lets us see the reality that dreams without deeds are simply daydreaming and deeds detached from great dreams can simply be a life of sleepwalking.

There on Marsh Plaza is now Sergio Castillo’s memorial to BU graduate Martin Luther King, Jr.  It is titled “Free at Last,” echoing the last lines of Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech delivered 50 years ago.  What is often forgotten about that speech is that it was delivered with eyes open to the tough realities he and the civil rights movement faced if the dreams were to become deeds, incarnations of imagination.

Multiple doves of peace ascend from that memorial sculpture out from the university toward the city and the world.  They go as we must go, launched from this university, with eyes open, to do the work of peace, to fly in the face of injustice, to soar and not be brought down by disappointment or despair.  As Dr. King affirmed, “In spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream.”  Do you?

I like to stand on the Plaza looking toward Commonwealth Avenue and the “T” stop.  If the dreams of peace and justice and equality for all — and beauty and wholeness, and the true commonwealth of economic resources, and community empowerment, and care for the environment — are to become reality, then the dream and the dream doers must get on the MBTA and go to the Financial District, and the Government Center, and the arts district, and Roxbury, and over to Dorchester where 8-year-old Martin Richard, who talked of coming to BU, held up his dream on a blue poster board:  “No More Hurting People – Peace.”  Can it happen?

Last year, standing on Mash Plaza after the Baccalaureate service, I overheard one graduate say to his family, “This is a dream come true!”  His dad responded without missing a beat, “So what’s your next dream?”  It’s a good questions, not for the sake of the dream only, but because, if our eyes are open, it shapes our next doing, resulting in the incarnation of imagination.

It’s the story of this university – whose very DNA, I would suggest, is dreams nurturing action, D-N-A.

This has never been an institution content with mimicking others or, in the worlds of Paul to the Romans, “Conforming.”  Rather, our history has been about “transforming” – dream nurturing action reflecting the imagination of God.

Three Methodists who deeply believed every person is created in the image of God and deserving of an education in the 1860s, with their eyes wide open, had a dream of a university open to everyone, both men and women, all races (they were passionately anti-slavery), all economic statuses, and those of all religions or no religion.  This was a radical notion.  They already had a school of theology which Harvard offered to take in.  But they refused because of the compelling dream they had of fully inclusive education.  Their dream was that this education would be totally free to everyone, supported by scholarships (we’re still working on some dreams – a development officer will be at the door to take your checks).

With eyes wide open, and the dream clear to him, Isaac Rich, one of the founders, gave his entire fortune to the dream even before there were any buildings, any faculty, or any students!  That’s an incarnation of imagination – matching the dream with a deed.  It was the largest single donation that had ever been made to an American college or university.  That’s our DNA – Dreams Nurturing Action.

This was only the beginning, with countless stories following of women and men, persons of all races, immigrants, and the poor of Boston – and, indeed, persons from around the world — finding a welcome here, and a superb education here, and their own dreams stirred into deeds and lives that have transformed the world, from here.

With this day, future stories of dreams nurturing action begin — not only in the outstanding global, academic and strategic initiatives being taken by President Brown and the Trustees an faculty, but by you and me.  Even Professor Elie Wiesel, 84, said a week ago, “I get the feeling I haven’t even begun.  I have so much else to do.”  Let’s begin.  Let’s commence.

And so we will walk out across Marsh Plaza once again.  Let us sense the goodness of this community called Boston University and remember the presence of all who gathered around the ascending doves in caring and compassion, remembering the life of Lingzi Lu for whom coming to Boston University was a dream come true — along with green-tea ice cream and blueberry pancakes.  But, with eyes wide open, she had larger dreams, next dreams that included a way called Commonwealth through this great city and down to the harbor pictured on our university seal that leads out to all the world and its needs.

Dream with your eyes open.  And hear again the words of Lingzi’s parents:  “We want to encourage others who have Lingzi’s ambition and dreams and want to make the world a better place to continue moving forward.”

“Others” – that’s you and me, whatever our connection with this university’s DNA of Dreams Nurturing Action.  “Forward” – that’s where we now go, dreaming with eyes wide open.  Amen.