MIT president to Sun Devils: Education allows you to invent your own future

At ASU's Undergraduate Commencement at Chase Field, Rafael Reif urges university's newest alumni to 'lift up those around you'

MIT President Rafael Reif speaks at ASU Undergraduate Commencement

Education is a gift that has the power to change lives, and Arizona State University’s Class of 2018 — the newest recipients of that gift — now have a duty to use their degrees to make the world a more equitable place, according to this year’s Undergraduate Commencement speaker, the president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“I grew up in Venezuela in a family of refugees who scraped by to make a living, and I remember my father telling me, ‘When you have to leave in a hurry, education is all you can take with you,’” Rafael Reif told the thousands of new degree-holders in the commencement ceremony at Chase Field in downtown Phoenix on Monday evening.

Photos: Spring 2018 commencement and convocations

“If you have an education, you have the possibility of inventing your own future. I have carried that lesson with me throughout my life,” said Reif, who received the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from ASU for his achievements in education, science, social entrepreneurship and sustainable futures. Reif, an electrical engineer, focused his scholarship on three-dimensional integrated circuit technologies and environmentally benign microelectronic fabrication.

“I grew up in a time and place where education was not a given. It was a luxury. And for far too many people in the U.S. and around the world, it still is,” he said.

“Like every one of you, I worked hard. I struggled, and I persevered. But I was lucky, too. Education opened a door that I have been privileged to walk through my entire life. I take seriously my responsibility to hold that door open for those who follow.”

Watch: Time-lapse of commencement at Chase Field

Reif told the graduates to get jobs that create a better life for themselves and their families.

“You deserve it and you have earned it. But also use the opportunity to lift up those around you.”

ASU President Michael Crow said that MIT is committed to change in the world and that Reif and the university he leads embrace the same characteristics that drive ASU.

“I know he personally embodies the spirit on which this institution is based, one of inclusion, one of research for the public good and of taking responsibility for the community,” he said.

Listen: Mike Wong, the voice of graduation

Aundrea DeGravina, a student member of the Arizona Board of Regents, implored her fellow graduates to become civically engaged.

“We must take our degrees, the connections we made and our unique passions and do something significant and positive,” said DeGravina, who earned degrees in political science and psychology.

“Our graduation is not only a personal achievement but also a victory for society and the state of Arizona.”

DeGravina was among more than 15,000 Sun Devils who received their degrees in spring 2018 — 10,400 undergraduate, 4,700 graduate. Of that total, about 8,400 are Arizona residents, nearly 3,000 are online students, including nearly 470 Starbucks partners earning degrees through the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, and 700 are military veterans.

Earlier on Monday, the Graduate Commencement was held at Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe for those who earned master’s and doctorate degrees. In total, ASU will hold more than 30 graduation ceremonies this month for the individual colleges and special-interest groups.

Video of Spring 2018 Graduate Commencement by Jordan Currier/ASU 

Twelve Sun Devils are the first graduates of new programs. Ten earned a Bachelor of Science in aeronautical management technology (unmanned aerial systems) from the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, and two earned a Bachelor of Arts in fashion from the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. 

Crow told the graduates that they are graduating at a time of unprecedented progress.

“I have one lesson, and it goes to your mindset: If you are allowing yourself to be affected in negative ways, if you believe the world is a place that is a glass half full or not at some moment of unbelievable potential, then you’re allowing yourself to be deluded,” he said.

“Today is a fantastic day in the arc of human history, and I am confident tomorrow will be even better.”

Crow said the graduates give him great optimism.

“Whenever people ask me if I’m worried about the future, I always say no. I say no because I know who you graduates are,” he said.

“I know you’re more compassionate, more understanding, and you understand what it means to be equal, the idea of liberty, what it means to be creative and what it means to be connected to other people. My lesson is to take the future completely by storm.”

Read more: Profiles of 2018 outstanding graduates 

Top photo: MIT President Rafael Reif speaks at ASU Undergraduate Commencement on Monday evening at Chase Field in downtown Phoenix. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

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