CAMBRIDGE — On a summer-like afternoon, thousands of students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology cheered and smiled Thursday during their commencement ceremony that brought a NASA-engineer-turned-YouTube star to campus.
In his commencement address, Mark Rober urged the graduates to embrace their accomplishments and boldly face any challenge that may come across as they embark on their careers.
“The degree you’re getting today means so much to you precisely because of all the struggle and setbacks that you’ve had to endure,” Rober told the 3,275 graduates, dressed in heavy dark gowns and caps, who sat shoulder-to-shoulder on Killian Court. “If you want to cross the river of life, you’re gonna get wet, you’re gonna have to backtrack, and that’s not a bug, it’s a feature.”
Rober is a former engineer at NASA and Apple who now creates YouTube videos about science, technology, and engineering experiments. He teaches a variety of online classes on science and engineering topics, and is also the founder of CrunchLabs, a company which creates educational toy-making kits that teach kids about STEM-related concepts.
Rober combines science with entertainment to create light-hearted experiments such as “Egg Drop From Space” and “Can You Swim in Jell-O?” and have garnered 23 million subscribers to his YouTube channel and more than three billion views, according to MIT.
Throughout his speech, Rober told students that while the future may hold uncertainties, he encouraged them to have faith in themselves and embrace their inexperience, all while poking fun at his own quirky career path.
“I know to some of you it sounds like I just said I quit the NBA to work at Foot Locker, or I traded a Picasso for an NFT of a stoned monkey, but I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Rober said. “Just move forward knowing there’s more than one trail that meets at the top of Mount Fuji.”
Sol Rodriguez, who graduated with a master’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science, said she thought it was great that Rober kept his address lighthearted, as it made the commencement ceremony all the more exciting and nostalgic.
“When else are you going to graduate again?” Rodriguez said.
Bader Almulhim, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, said Rober’s advice of taking the future “step by step” was encouraging. It was especially meaningful since the COVID-19 pandemic upended their time at one of the world’s most prestigious universities.
“It’s been a rough journey, and the four years have felt so long,” Almulhim. “[Because of the pandemic and Zoom] it felt much longer, but we’re finally here, and I’m happy to have made it this far.”
Elisa Becker-Foss, who graduated with a master’s degree in finance, said she left the commencement ceremony with a sense of responsibility to help others. as she goes out into the world.
“It is very cool to be here, and after all the hard work to finally find one day to come together and celebrate,” Elisa Becker-Foss said. “There is a legacy you feel and carry from the day itself, the speeches, and the ceremony.”
In the end of his address, Rober urged students that although they should always strive to learn and challenge themselves, they should also remember to enjoy life and “engage in occasional playful anarchy.”
Congratulating the graduating class of 2023, Rober sent off his cap, which was attached to a drone, soaring into the sky.
“All that’s left to do is to go out and change the world for the better,” Rober said to the cheering graduates. “You totally got this.”