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With music and merriment, MIT celebrates the upcoming inauguration of Sally Kornbluth

Hundreds packed Killian and Hockfield courts to enjoy student performances, amusement park rides, and food ahead of Inauguration Day.

MIT’s campus was transformed Saturday for a community street fair in celebration of the inauguration of Sally Kornbluth, MIT’s 18th president.
Image: Jodi Hilton
MIT’s campus was transformed Saturday for a community street fair in celebration of the inauguration of Sally Kornbluth, MIT’s 18th president. Credits: Image: Jodi Hilton

MIT’s campus spilled over with good cheer yesterday during a community-wide celebration marking the upcoming inauguration of MIT President Sally Kornbluth.

In a day of activities that truly had something for everyone, MIT community members and their families enjoyed an array of student performances, amusement park rides, exhibits hosted by MIT’s departments and labs, and plenty of food.

“It’s a historic moment — a lot of change could happen from here forward,” senior Anjali Sinha said. “We’re welcoming a new person into the community, so it’s really a joyous occasion.”

The family-friendly event primarily took place in Killian Court, Hockfield Court, and the buildings in between — though people could be seen sporting balloon hats and enjoying sweets in nearly every building on campus. Hundreds of people braved the (mostly wrong) rain forecast to attend.

“It’s really cool to see everybody come out and celebrate together, as well as getting to see all of the different student groups showcase their talents and what they’ve been working hard on,” senior Anjali Singh said. “There’s just a lot of energy, and having events like this helps balance out the work we do.”

Underneath a football field-sized tent on Killian Court, community members took in dance and musical performances from student groups and tried their hands at minigolf, mandala sand art, and cornhole. Kids led their parents around a jungle gym of inflatable tubes, fluorescent swings, and seesaws. People perused the food stands lining the perimeter of the tent and came together at large tables in the center of the action. Music and the scent of popcorn radiated out of the tent from all sides.

“I love how it’s bringing the community together, not just MIT, but I think there’s a lot of locals here as well,” Darsh Grewal, a junior, said. “There’s a lot to do, a lot of free food — which is always great for the students. It’s really showcasing how diverse MIT is, which is great as well.”

Hockfield Court also featured a stage with student performances and activities that came across as half carnival, half research fair. Community members hopped from an arcade area to pinwheel-making stations and T shirt giveaways. People got massages next to biomarker demonstrations. Real dogs sniffed curiously at a mini robotic cheetah.

Outside the tent, Hockfield Court was all carnival. Lined by food trucks serving up street corn, ice cream, and cupcakes, the area offered amusement park rides and face painting stations. Acrobatic performers and a woman on stilts moved effortlessly across the lawn.

The hallways and buildings between the courts also featured clues of the fun outside, with people double-fisting baked goods and the sounds and smells of the tents lingering. Travelers stopped at demonstrations by MIT’s Glass Lab and explored an exhibit in MIT’s Compton Gallery, which showcased student projects. A third stage in Lobby 13 played Caribbean music and a fourth in Lobby 10 played a sampling of musical styles. For once the Banana Lounge was empty.

Across all of the activities, community members conveyed a sense of excitement for Kornbluth’s arrival at MIT.

“Especially after Covid, a day like this is very important,” Research Affiliate Seth Riskin said. “I’m pleased to see so many people come out. People want to connect, and it’s a nice occasion for that. An inauguration is a time of promise, vision, and future, and we all wanted to celebrate that.”

Later that evening, a free concert in Kresge Auditorium showcased the talent and creativity of the roughly 100 performers who make up the MIT Festival Jazz Ensemble, the MIT Wind Ensemble, and the MIT Vocal Jazz Ensemble. Titled “We Are the Forest: Music of Resilience and Activism,” and featuring the three student ensembles plus several MIT faculty and visiting artists, the event delivered a “sonic awakening” about the plight of the Amazon and urgency of the global climate crisis.

Many of the pieces were developed as part of cultural exchanges between the MIT musicians and local communities in Puerto Rico and Brazil. In a rousing performance that ended with musicians and audience members stomping their feet with the music, saxophonist Miguel Zenón and the MIT Festival Jazz Ensemble reprised “En Pie De Lucha,” composed by Zenón in response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in Puerto Rico. The group also performed the piece during a visit to Puerto Rico in 2019, in which they spent a week performing and participating in workshops on Puerto Rican culture and STEM topics.

Saturday’s concert was part of a project created by MIT Sounding Co-Director Frederick Harris Jr. called Hearing Amazônia—The Responsibility of Existence. The project led to a trip in March, organized with assistance from graduate student Talia Khan ’20, that brought over 80 MIT musicians to the Brazilian Amazon, where they met with indigenous communities, sharing music and other types of knowledge. That visit culminated in an event at the famous Teatro Amazonas opera house, featuring the MIT students and artists, local musicians from Manuas, and vocalist Djuena Tikuna, a member of the Tikuna People, Brazil’s largest indigenous Amazonian ethnic group.

Tikuna also performed at the MIT concert Saturday, leading Nós Somos A Floresta — Eware (Reflections on Amazonia) based on lyrics from a traditional song of the Tikuna people. The stage was packed as Tikuna, accompanied by clarinetists Anat Cohen and Evan Ziporyn, percussionist David Rosado Ortiz, and all three student ensembles, delivered a heartfelt performance while a slideshow of photos by Diego Janatã played in the background. Other performers throughout the evening included vocalists Sara Serpa and Laura Grill Jaye.

“Tonight we celebrate,” said Agustín Rayo, dean of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, in remarks at the event. “We celebrate our new president, the artistry of our students, the power of collaboration and cultural exchange, and the unique ability of music to draw our attention to the natural world and our relationship to it.”

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