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MIT staff blogger Chris Peterson SM '13

A letter from President Reif regarding George Floyd and Minneapolis by Chris Peterson SM '13

Today, the Class of 2020 graduates — virtually — from MIT. On a normal day, we’d be gathered in Killian Court, and I’d be kneeling on the grass, taking photos and giving hugs.

Of course, today is not a normal day, for MIT, for the country, or for the world. In addition to the ongoing pandemic, the death of George Floyd, at the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, has catalyzed protests there and around the country. Many people, including members of the dispersed MIT community, are struggling with strong feelings: of anger, of injustice, of despair, of solidarity.

Earlier today, President Reif sent the following email to all faculty, staff, and students of MIT:

To the members of the MIT community,

At MIT, Commencement is the most beautiful day of the year. Even in this strange pandemic moment, this afternoon’s graduation celebration will offer us all the opportunity to celebrate the wonderful spirit, character and accomplishments of our newest graduates.

That joy is and should be perfect and untouchable.

But I write with a heart that is also full of anguish – because it is impossible to face this particular day without an overwhelming sense of concern for our nation.

The death of George Floyd and the events unfolding in Minneapolis are deeply disturbing in themselves. And of course, they come on the heels of highly charged incidents, from Georgia to New York, that highlight yet again the tragic persistence of racism and systemic injustice in the United States.

I know that the pain of these events is especially intense for certain members of our community, beginning with those who are African American and of African descent, though certainly not ending there. And I know that, in this time of tension around the pandemic and rising strains in US-China relations, others in our community are also suffering distinctive forms of harassment and discrimination.

I imagine that you may share my urgent desire to help, while feeling an awful powerlessness to do so. At this moment, let’s do what we can. I believe a place to begin is by cherishing and seeking to strengthen our dear MIT community. Imperfect, certainly. But a community with an essential commitment to facing hard facts, thoughtfully striving to correct our errors – and working together to address humanity’s greatest challenges. A community where we aspire always to treat one another with sympathy, humility, decency, respect and kindness.

Let us treasure and care for that community – and let us work to make it better.

In the days and months to come, I would like us to find meaningful ways to come together to work on these challenges, for ourselves and for our society. I have asked John Dozier, our Institute Community and Equity Officer, to guide us in this effort.

For now: I take hope in turning my thoughts to the new graduates we share with the world this afternoon. Today is our beloved Commencement day, a day when we honor the achievements of our graduating students and charge them with helping to heal the world. That charge will be all the more meaningful now, grounded in the very present struggles for our nation and for the world.

With great love and concern for our community and our nation,

L. Rafael Reif

Over the years, we have also had many bloggers write about their own experiences with racism and injustice. On a day like today, I find myself thinking particularly of Ben’s01 Who is graduating today. Ben, I am so, so proud of you. posts on Amaud Arbery and Life of a Black Person, Vincent’s post on Black Lives Matter, and Selam’s post on Colors. Whatever there is to say about the struggle for racial justice in America today, they have all said it better than I can, so I instead of writing more myself, I want to lift their voices up: their stories have taught me so much. Whether you see yourself in their words, or learn something about how other people experience the world, I hope they mean as much to you as they do to me.

I am also reminded of Stu’s post, two years ago, on the Parkland protests, where he wrote that “an MIT education is about learning more than mere facts and figures, but about developing the ability and passion to work wisely, creatively, and effectively for the betterment of humankind,” as well as Professor Silbey’s call for a renewed emphasis on “responsible citizenship and civic responsibility” in the Institute’s education. As President Reif wrote above, my hope is graduating, current, and future students of the Institute will be able to work together to advance a more just and equitable future. For although these are dark times, our students are the light we guard and care for so that they may illuminate the path to a better world.


  1. Who is graduating today. Ben, I am so, so proud of you. back to text