CAMBRIDGE — US Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith told MIT graduates on Friday that she is often asked why she left Silicon Valley for a job in government. It is important, the MIT alumna said, to “show up where we are more rare,” because that is where the biggest problems live.
As the university conferred 2,773 degrees in one of the area’s final ceremonies this graduation season, Smith told the graduates to use their talents for service, and that “kindness is as important as knowledge.”
At a school where the mathematical equations are long and the science problems may have no answers, the final lesson Smith offered was simple: “Be kind, be inclusive, be open. Make history in the infinite ways that your heart takes you.”
Smith, who serves as an assistant to President Obama, also told the graduates to work in teams and to respect others in the workplace.
“People can get into very bad habits of arguing ideas and shutting them down,” she said on the sunny, crisp morning. “What if that half-idea was the first idea for a cure for cancer?”
Kendall Nowocin, president of the Graduate Student Council, spoke of MIT as a community, and thanked his fellow classmates for their support when he was grieving the death of his father.
“We are one MIT, but even better, one family,” he said. “We persevere until we are back on a firm foundation.”
Joanne Zhou, president of the class of 2015, reflected on her early days at MIT, when she asked herself, “How is everyone but me so terrifyingly perfect?” But, Zhou said, she realized that her classmates were all having the same thoughts.
“We chose MIT to be better than our best. . . . We’re driven by our passions and fueled by our compassion,” Zhou said.
In his remarks, President L. Rafael Reif told graduates to have a “bold willingness to disrupt the status quo, to make the world a better place.”
Some students are doing that already at MIT, he said, like those who helped create the memorial honoring slain MIT Police Officer Sean Collier, or students of Fossil Free MIT, who he said “have inspired a community conversation about how MIT can lead in solving the challenge of climate change.”
“I want to ask you to hack the world, until you make the world a little more like MIT,” he said. “More daring and more passionate. More humble, more respectful, more generous, and more kind.”
He also praised a student for creating wristbands that say “T.M.A.Y.D.,” which stand for “Tell Me About Your Day.” He said they were made “following the terrible losses we experienced this year,” and the bands encourage students to “show that we are willing to listen when others need to talk.”
“That is beautiful,” he said, “and it is definitely hacking the world.”
Eight members of the MIT community died in just over a year, including four who took their own lives.
Following the ceremony, Xiaoyue Xie, 22, of Beijing, said that MIT was a challenging, yet welcoming school.
“It’s a very inclusive place,” said Xie, who will be starting a job in mechanical design for Microsoft. “People like to share their passions, and to learn outside of their major.”
Leonid Mindyuk, 21, from Moscow, also said he appreciated learning from and exchanging ideas with other students. Mindyuk, who completed a master’s in finance, said the best part of attending MIT was that he formed strong friendships with students from all around the world.
“These friendships I’ll keep forever,” he said.
Katherine Landergan can be reached at katherine.landergan @globe.com.