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While the year 2001 evokes Stanley Kubrick's classic odyssey to outer space, President Charles Vest told "the true millennial class" to consider themselves on an odyssey to improve humanity's common space.
Four years ago as freshmen, the Class of 2001 embarked on an educational odyssey. "It has been and will be an odyssey to 'inner space,'" he said. "Along the way, I am sure that you have discovered that the most profound challenges of learning lie within yourselves."
Dr. Vest, addressing the graduates of the year 2001 (his 11th graduating class since becoming MIT's president) said that now they should turn their talents to "common space -- the places we inhabit together -- physically, intellectually, socially and spiritually.
"It will be up to you as leaders of a technological age to be the explorers and the builders of common space," he said.
Challenges for the future
While people have developed communication and networking technologies that serve common space, one of the challenges facing society is "a great tension between the forces of integration and fragmentation."
Religious and ethnic conflicts; hunger, disease and poverty amid wealth and plenty; and lack of education within even the most advanced societies are some of the examples of a world growing apart rather than coming together, he said.
Do not let these destructive forces prevail, Dr. Vest warned the graduates. He urged them to "seek the best that is found within your inner space and bring it to bear on what confronts us in common with all humanity."
"Build us a world that can feed and shelter all of its citizens," he said. "A world that prizes clean air and water, even as it builds strong industries and strengthens economies... a world that honors the wisdom of the ages and aged, but offers opportunity to the young... a world with a sense of wonder that has the courage to explore the mysteries around, within and beyond us... a world that conquers hate and treasures peace... a world that knows -- and lives -- the meaning of community.
"Aspire to this, and you will indeed have an odyssey worthy of a new millennium," he said.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on June 13, 2001.