Skip to main content

Remarks on Behalf of the Academic Community

Killian Court, MIT, Cambridge, Mass.

As prepared for delivery

The Inauguration of L. Rafael Reif, 17th President of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Thank you, Chairman Reed. It is an honor to be here today to extend warm greetings on behalf of colleges and universities throughout the nation and around the world.

I come to you from just down the road, just up the river, from that quaint institution that I’m told some of you call “that red brick school up the street.” From my own humble neo-Georgian surroundings in Harvard Yard to this graceful neoclassical court is, if Google Maps is to be believed, a distance of just 1.9 miles — or, in MIT units, one thousand seven hundred and ninety-seven smoots. We are close neighbors, sometime rivals, often collaborators, always friends. And we at Harvard owe it to MIT never to let us take ourselves too seriously. Your spirited hackers have more than once taken liberties with the statue of John Harvard, and you have brought the Harvard-Yale game to a standstill with a weather balloon rising mysteriously from the field of Harvard Stadium.

Just over a century ago, in 1909, Harvard’s President Lowell came to the inauguration of MIT’s President Maclaurin and pronounced our institutions to be “sisters … working side by side in a common cause.” Like siblings everywhere, we have our spirited rivalries, we have our zesty blend of competition and cooperation, reverence and irreverence — but, most of all, we have a deep familial bond that joins us forever together.

Today, we at Harvard congratulate you and rejoice in the wonderful choice you have made in selecting L. Rafael Reif to serve as the 17th president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Like the man for whom this Court is named, he assumes the presidency as a long-time citizen of the campus community. An engineer, a colleague, and a leader, he brings to his new role institutional knowledge acquired over more than three decades, he brings a love for this place and its people, and a vision for the future that affirms the values and principles that have distinguished MIT throughout its history.

A well-respected and highly successful provost, Rafael Reif is well known to us at Harvard for his insight and his judgment. He is a generous and genuine convener who listens as much as he speaks — identifying common ground, defining shared purposes, and driving progress. Charles William Eliot, a founding faculty member of the Institute and the longest-serving president of Harvard, once remarked that MIT president William Barton Rogers had, as he put it, “the power of bringing [people] to work together harmoniously and to one end.” The same can be said of Rafael Reif, whose collaborative spirit is exemplified in our joint adventures in the Broad Institute and, now, edX. We at Harvard join enthusiastically with you at MIT in celebrating his appointment.

But President Reif’s appointment matters well beyond Harvard and MIT. With the good wishes of all of higher education, I also bring our hopes and aspirations for what the Institute under his leadership will mean for us all — for the city, for the region, for the nation, for the world. What is discovered and advanced, imagined and designed within your classrooms and your laboratories will continue to shape and alter the ways in which human beings understand and experience their lives.

Just as important is who will undertake this work. MIT welcomes the curious and the inventive — natural and social scientists; engineers and entrepreneurs; architects, artists, and humanists. Here, students from across the country and around the globe, many from families that have never sent a daughter or a son to college, become members of a community that embraces talent and applauds merit. They are instructed and inspired by faculty who have devoted themselves to the pursuit and application of knowledge. All turn outward, as the figures on the MIT seal do, their eyes fixed on new challenges and new opportunities to improve the world.

Rafael Reif, himself the embodiment of so much of what MIT means to all of us, has said that this is a dream he never dared dreaming. The story of his journey to this moment — from Venezuela to the United States, from West Coast to East Coast — is a powerful reminder of the values that will guide his tenure, as well as a testament to the enduring purposes and promise of higher education. It is a great day, as we see what Rafael Reif is and what he believes embraced as a signal of MIT’s aspirations in the years ahead.

I extend once again the warmest greetings to President Rafael Reif, who — mind and hand, hand and heart — will move the Massachusetts Institute of Technology forward.

Now, despite silently suffering torment and humiliation these many years as the victim of MIT’s creative hackers, John Harvard has dressed himself for today’s occasion. President Reif, on behalf of the “red brick school up the street,” I present a symbol of our lasting friendship.