CAMBRIDGE — Salman Khan, founder of Khan Academy, told MIT graduates Friday that even though they are graduating from a leading science and engineering institution, they still face a world filled with cynicism and pessimism, and he challenged them to resist those attitudes.
“That cynicism will eat at your energy and potential, and to fight it, you should smile with every atom in your body,” he said.
Khan, who spoke to nearly 2,500 graduates gathered on Killian Court, is a 1998 MIT alumnus whose nonprofit academy provides free online video tutorials on such subjects as calculus and history. He started the company after working for six years with a hedge fund and commended MIT for joining with Harvard recently to offer free online courses through edX.
“MIT has once again put principle over profit,” Khan said. “I am honored to come here and thank the institution that I love so much for reminding me through its actions what is most important.”
President Susan Hockfield,who is retiring after leading the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for eight years, said graduates like Khan exemplify how students and faculty look at the way things are and try to make them better.
“In their purpose, in their technological nimbleness and bold disregard for the status-quo, the Khan Academy and edX both express the fearless problem-solving spirit of MIT,” said Hockfield, who is being replaced by L. Rafael Reif, most recently the school’s provost.
Like Khan, Hockfield reminded students that times are tough.
“I don’t have to tell anyone here that this is a time when many people fear the future,” Hockfield said. “Through the great alchemy of MIT, which turns the lead weight of unsolved problems into golden opportunities for progress, this community is not afraid.”
Rebecca Cox said she is not afraid of her future. Cox, who is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience and literature, is heading to Cornell Medical School to pursue a doctorate in neuroscience, said that will be her full-time job for the next couple of years.
At a time when college graduates are facing bleak job prospects and a weakening economy, Cox said that does not seem to faze her or her friends.
“Everyone I’ve heard of is doing fine,” Cox said. “If they don’t know what they are doing, it’s mostly because they are undecided.”
Her mother, Lisa Cox, also stays optimistic and said the value of an education is worth it in the end.
“We try not to think about it too much,” she said. “It’s hard for middle-class families, but this has to be done.”