President Chameau's Welcome to New Students

It is my pleasure and my honor to welcome you to the California Institute of Technology!

Life is rarely about guarantees, but I'm about to make you one: I guarantee you that the years of study you're about to embark upon will be both exciting and overwhelming, and sometimes both at once.

Our alumni sometimes liken a Caltech education to trying to sip water from a fire hose. Information, experiences, ideas, thoughts ... they're all going to come at you, fast and furious, as you go through your time here. Take in what you can, with your mind wide open.

You are here because you are smart, because you are GOOD. You've probably known that for a very long time. But that person to your left? She's at least equally as good. So is that guy to your right. THAT may be new.

For people who are used to being the smartest person in the room, Caltech can be a bit of a culture shock. But let me tell you something right now that might help: You don't need to be the smartest person here. There's room for lots of really smart, creative, curious people at Caltech, and you have demonstrated you're one of those people. It's why we asked you to come.

In fact, let me take this time to tell you a little bit about yourselves and your fellow students.

Out of the more than 5,000 applications we received for this freshman class, we admitted only 244 of you. Thirty—six percent of you are women; I'll let you all do the math to figure out what percentage of you are men. And 16 percent of you, whether male or female, are underrepresented students. Seventy—seven percent of you did community service in high school which, I believe, says a lot about you; 36 percent of you participated in athletics.

What about the graduate students? There are 259 new graduate students this year; there are 115 international students, representing 35 countries from Australia to Uruguay. Sixty percent of you are in engineering fields, with the largest number—24 new students—in electrical engineering. As for the sciences? Chemistry has the most new graduate students with 44.

What else can I tell you about yourselves? Among you is at least one pole vaulter, cheerleader, pen spinner, windsurfer, wrestler, fencer, scuba diver, ballet dancer, dodgeball team champion, and rock climber.

At least one of you has engineered a line of clothing out of duct tape; another of you likes to imitate cartoon voices. One of you is a member of the Civil Air Patrol, while another of you plays the bassoon. Someone here likes to take pictures while running because, as you told our admissions officers, you get to see the world distorted and blurred, with an occasional, crystal—clear photo. We have a regional car—racing competitor out there, while another one of you performs Shakespeare improvisations. One of you plays piano in several jazz bands, and another of you raises ducks in your spare time.

Whoever you are, whatever you do—you're unique and we're happy to have you here at Caltech.

And now that you're here, what we want you to do—what we NEED you to do—is to be curious. Not just in your field of study. Look for special opportunities Caltech will offer, like the TEDxCaltech event. This event celebrated the anniversary of the lecture Richard Feynman gave 50 years ago with the title of "there is plenty of room at the bottom". This lecture by Feynman launched the discipline of nanoscience and nanotechnology. Scientists and performers from all the over the world came to Caltech a few months ago to celebrate this anniversary but more importantly to dream of what the next years of nanotechnology could bring to society. Many Caltech students were involved in the planning and participated in the event. We plan to have another TEDxCaltech on a different topic in 2013. Come to the concerts and artistic events, some organized by students, which take place on the campus. Be part of the excitement generated when Stephen Hawking comes to campus. Come to our Watson lectures in this auditorium—come to any lecture that sounds interesting to you. In fact, you will start doing that this afternoon. In a few moments, geochemist John Eiler is going to talk to you about how to take a dinosaur's temperature. It doesn't get much more interesting than that!

And explore the student life on campus; I think you're going to be surprised at what a vibrant and unique place Caltech is. Check out each of the houses, and find your place. Go on over to the music house, or find out what's going on in our theater arts group, TACIT. Check out the gym, see what the athletics department has to offer. Come to a volleyball or basketball game! 

But also keep in mind, if you find yourself feeling a little lost—in any way, at any time—turn again to that person on your left, to that friend on your right. You are not alone; you are part of this community, part of us. Reach out to the faculty, the staff and your friends. They are here to help you.

In a recent message I sent to campus, commemorating the ten—year anniversary of the tragic events of 9/11, I talked about remarks made by columnist Tom Friedman on the challenges facing this country.

One of the things Friedman said was that the U.S. doesn't just need MORE education ... we need BETTER education. As he put it, we need "education that focuses on creativity and starting things."

He also talked about the importance of INVENTING OURSELVES out of the position we're in now.

He could have been talking specifically about Caltech, and the journey you are about to embark upon. What we are here to do is to help you further develop your already creative minds, and to teach you about innovation, and about breaking through existing boundaries in science and technology.

And so here is my charge to you, as you begin your time at Caltech:

Be creative. Start things. Help us invent our way out of where we are now. During your time here, we will give you the tools you need ... but it's up to you to use them, and we don't just want you to use them—we NEED you to use them. 

You have joined an extraordinary community and we are glad you're here. Welcome to Caltech. 

Thank you.