A Brief History of Commencement Speakers at MIT

by Jay London on June 8, 2017 · 0 comments

in Alumni Life, Campus, Campus Culture, Events, In the News, Student Life

Click the image for the full list of Commencement speakers.

Tomorrow’s MIT Commencement exercise will feature guest speaker and Apple CEO Tim Cook, who heads the world’s largest publicly traded corporation.

Cook is the sixth major organization CEO to speak at MIT Commencement in eight years. He is the Institute’s 112th Commencement speaker dating back to 1880, the earliest year that MIT Commencement records exist at MIT’s Institute Archives and Special Collections. A graduate of Auburn and Duke, Cook is part of a group of non-MIT alumni Commencement speakers that includes President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, and actor and activist Matt Damon.

The most frequent MIT Commencement speaker? Francis A. Walker, MIT’s third president, who was the primary speaker 11 times between 1883-1896.

The most notable event in MIT’s Commencement history occurred when there was no speaker. In 1970, during the peak of the United States’ conflict in Vietnam, the graduating class requested that then-MIT President Howard Wesley Johnson HM ’66 refrain from speaking in lieu of two minutes of silence to consider what can be done “to help resolve the conflicts which divide mankind in this country and around the world.”

The first half of the 20th century often featured more than one Commencement per year. Separate ceremonies were held from graduate and undergraduate students in the ’40s, and traditional students and military students often held separate ceremonies in the ’20s and ’30s.

Commencement speakers from 2003-2017 are listed below. View the full list of speakers below, dating back to Unitarian clergyman George E. Ellis, who addressed MIT graduates in 1880. Click the image for a larger version then share your Commencement memories in the comments below and on Facebook and Twitter.

This is an updated version of a story originally published on June 5, 2014.

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