greenlogoProfessor Patrick Henry Winston ’65, SM ’67, PhD ’70

The day was full of the accoutrements of a Presidential visit—cameras, barricades, fresh paint, devotees, police, people on the rooftops with binoculars and guns, and somber-looking men whose darting eyes constantly scanned the crowd.

It was a good-feeling type of day because President Obama knows something about motivation. He said he values us, he values our work, and he knows our work makes a difference. Speaking of MIT in particular, and saluting entrepreneurs, inventors, researchers, and engineers in general, he also said, “The nation that wins this competition will be the nation that leads the global economy.” It’s nice, and refreshing, to know that the President of the United States knows that.

It all took me back to another speech, Susan Hockfield’s inaugural address, four years ago. She identified the two major interdisciplinary themes she would promote as President of MIT: engineering + biology + brain and cognitive science was one; energy and the environment was the other. Out of the energy and the environment theme emerged MIT’s Energy Initiative, aka MITEI, and that is what drew the other President to use MIT as the venue for his call-to-arms speech.

Now more often that not here at MIT, I stand with the loyal opposition on matters of policy, and sometimes I get quite cranky about what I take to be a shift toward a more corporate look and feel. But when our current President is a past president, and people ask what she accomplished, if the answer is that she started the MIT Energy Initiative, which saved the planet, not to mention the economy, then I think she will have left behind a pretty good legacy.

It’s the nature of big jobs. The superposition principle does not apply. You don’t sum up all the things people do, you honor the best thing or condemn the worst thing. In this case, the best thing has big potential.