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Abby Willets' older sister. Tamra Haby's grandfather from Texas, who bought new boots for the occasion. Kara Sprague's colorful Aunt Mary. They all had seats in Killian Court to see their loved ones receive an MIT degree, thanks to Stanley Hu.
Mr. Hu's parents, who attended Commencement last year when he and his twin brother Roger received their SB degrees, decided to skip this year when Stanley was awarded the MEng in electrical engineering and computer science. With no need for his four tickets, he decided to hold an essay contest via e-mail to give them away. The idea grew out of a conversation about the ethics of selling extra tickets.
"I didn't just want to give them away," said Mr. Hu. "That would be too easy. So I came up with the idea that they should convince me why they needed the tickets (in 250 words or less). That would give seniors a chance to earn them fairly and provide entertainment at the same time."
The winners were selected by several of Stanley's friends and co-workers from among 13 entries. Mr. Hu was pleased with the results. "I wish I had more tickets to give away," he said.
AND THE WINNERS ARE...
Ms. Willets of Derry, NH, a mechanical engineering major, received two tickets for the #1 essay. She gave them to her older sister Kallie, a graduate student at Stanford, and Kallie's boyfriend.
Ms. Haby, an aeronautics and astronautics major from Helotes, TX, won one ticket after listing 21 reasons why she needed extra tickets. Her reasons ranged from (16) "Catholics have big families," to (12) "Grandpa bought new boots for the occasion," to (1) "I have 21 people coming to see me graduate! If I win this, 17 people will take turns sitting in the sun -- that is maximizing the utility of these tickets!"
Ms. Sprague, an electrical engineering and computer science major from Denver, also won one ticket. In her essay, she noted that she had relatives aged 12 to 92 from four states planning to attend Commencement. In addition to her siblings and parents, they included Aunt Mary ("now known as Maria") of New York, a longtime flight attendant for United Airlines, "flamboyant, compassionate and fanatically fit, who is picking her outfits to match the color of the Rio Red rental car."
Ms. Sprague continued: "Last but not least, from Ohio hails the patriarch of the Catalano family, my paternal grandfather, Frank, a first-generation Sicilian-American, legally blind, mostly deaf, retired physician and wheeler-dealer in the stock market -- his obsession as a widower."
Mr. Hu's cousin, Professor Gregory Fu of chemistry, donated his ticket to physics major Mark Avnet of Boca Raton, FL, who was a runner-up in Mr. Hu's contest.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on June 13, 2001.