SUTD Class of 2017 Commencement Speech by Professor Thomas L Magnanti, President, SUTD

09 Sep 2017

Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) and Second Minister for Defence, Mr Ong Ye Kung
SUTD Board of Trustees Chairman, Mr Lee Tzu Yang
Graduates, Families, and Friends
SUTD Faculty, Staff and Students
Distinguished guests
Ladies and Gentlemen
Welcome to SUTD’s graduation ceremony.
Today is one of my favorite days of the year. We are here to celebrate with all SUTD graduates, their family and friends. Today we celebrate not only our undergraduates and master’s degree students, but also for the first time, PhD students graduating from SUTD. Congratulations to you all.

Students, through your times here, you have concluded one of the most significant chapters of your life. You have learned through a rigorous curriculum drawn largely from MIT. You have had the opportunity to express yourselves through a variety of experiences including not only your classrooms and laboratories, but your own initiatives in the 5th row. You have collaborated with great faculty, staff, and fellow students. You have been housed in a wonderful new campus with marvelous laboratories, classrooms, and hostels. You have grown personally as well as professionally. Your time here has been a great adventure, filled with much learning, imagination, fun and enjoyment, and yes, even some moments of pressure and stress. Remember these years and the experiences you have had, and remain good friends, colleagues, and fans of SUTD.
Occasions like today provide an opportunity not only to celebrate but also to reflect. Fifty years ago, essentially twice as long as many of you have lived, I too graduated from my undergraduate studies and launched on a four year period as a graduate student.
With this in mind, I entitle my remarks today as
Then and Now.
As I look back to that time, it is clear that life in 1967 was quite different in many ways than it is today. I’d like to share some of the differences with you. I will focus on the United States since that is what I know best, but also offer a few thoughts about Singapore and the world. I will do so by sharing some photos with you that are drawn largely from the web.
I will make estimates on several numbers, using an inflation number of 7.33 between 1967 and today, and I will do some rounding to make the numbers easier to process. However, don’t hold me to any specific numbers.1

Let’s start with some issues facing the world
In 1967, nearly half a million American troops were serving in the Vietnam War.

Peace rallies were occurring as the number of protesters against the war increased.

Muhammad Ali was stripped of his boxing world championship for being a conscientious objector and refusing to be inducted into the US Army.
In the Middle East, Israel combated with Syria, Egypt and Jordan in the six day war.
In the summer, cities throughout America exploded in racial rioting and looting.

Economics and Finance
What do you think were the average household income and average price of a new house in the US?
In the US, Household Income per year was $6,200 (or $46,000 in today’s dollars). Today it’s about $58,000 or about 25 percent higher. In Singapore, the median household income from work is S$106,000 which equals about US$78,500.
The average cost of a new house in the US was $14,300 (or about $106,000 in today’s dollars). Today the average cost is $189,000.
The yearend close of the Dow Jones Industrial Average was 905 (or 6640 in today’s dollars). Today, the Average is about 22,000.
The average monthly rent was $125 (or $925 in today’s dollars). It’s about $1230 today.
Gas per liter cost 8.7 cents (or 64 cents in today’s dollars). It’s 76 cents today and about $1.58 in US dollars in Singapore.
The average cost of a new car was $2,750 (or $20,200 in today’s dollars). Today it’s about $33,700.
A movie ticket cost $1.25 (or $9 in today’s dollars). It’s about $12 today.
So an average house price was 2.3 years of income in 1967, today it is about 3.3 years.
The average cost of a new car was about 44 percent of yearly salary, and is about 58 percent today.
The average cost of an apartment is 33 percent higher than it was in 1967.
That’s a lot of numbers, but as you can see, the US economy has changed some, and in some ways is not quite as good as it was in 1967.
Entertainment, Fashion and Living
Life expectancy in the US at birth: 1967 73.5 years, today 79 years. (Singapore 67.5 years to 85 years.) Those are enormous gains.
In England, Twiggy was a fashion icon and miniskirts continued to become shorter.
This year was named the summer of love and teenagers congregated, got friendly, and smoked pot.
Entertainment became more geared to the youth.
The Rolling Stone and New York Magazine were introduced.
Discotheques and singles bars appeared across the world.
       The Beatles and Monkeys were in their prime.
"The Graduate", “The Dirty Dozen”, “Bonnie and Clyde" and "Cool Hand Luke" were new movies.
Elvis and Priscilla were married.
In US, for the first time in 1967, sales of color TVs were higher than black and white TVs. In the US in 1972, the number of color TVs was more than black and white TVs.
Notice from the photo how large and boxie the TVs were.
We did have a remote control in our house. My parents would say, Tom go across the room and change the channel.
When my wife and I moved across the country for my graduate school, we had a 9 inch black and white TV that we viewed across the room. A couple of years later we purchased a big screen TV – 18 inches – which became a rallying point for our friends.
When did color televisions start in Singapore? 1973 or 1974.
Other than jobs as nurses, secretaries and teachers in elementary and secondary schools, few women were in the workplace.
Next, how about technology?

  • The world’s first successful heart transplant operation was performed in South Africa by Dr. Christiaan Barnard.
  • CES, the Consumer Electronics Show, held its first meeting.
  • The first North Sea gas is pumped ashore.
  • The first ATM (Automatic Teller Machine) was put into service in Barclays Bank in London.
  • Amana made the first countertop microwave oven.
  • The Boeing 737 took its maiden flight and the Concorde was seen for the first time in public.
  • Apollo 1 was destroyed in a fire on the launch pad.
  • In 1966, I worked at a company that had an advanced scientific computer, the IBM 1620. Today’s cell phones hold about 250,000 times the storage space of that computer’s disk drive which was about 12 inches in diameter.
  • Texas Instruments sold the first Pocket Calculator in US.
  • Cars in general were much larger than today and had little of the electronic, safety and performance capabilities that they have now. Many also had white wall tires.

Wouldn’t you say, these are significant changes in technology?

First Super Bowl was played and watched by 51 million viewers. The last one was viewed by 172 million.
Kathy Switzer was the first woman to run the Boston Marathon as a club numbered entry. Race official, Jock Semple, attempted to rip Switzer's number off saying get out of my race. She did finish.
Women became official entries starting in 1972.
In 1973, in the "Battle of the Sexes”, Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs, a former World No. 1. This was a landmark event in the advancement of women in sports.
Needless to say, since 1967, there have been major changes for women in sports, work, and many other elements of life.
Just a few remembrances.
Needless to say, the two year old Singapore was quite a different place than it is today.
Shown here are some photos of Singapore in 1967. You will see that the Tiger Balm Garden, Raffles Place, and Bugis Street were very different from today. Also the river and Orchard Road, including The Lido Theater, weren’t the bustling and thriving economic and social centers that they are now.
A few milestones. National Service started and DP Architects was born. Educational television, the Civilian War Memorial, and the first naval ship were launched, as was Singapore as the garden city that it is today.
Singapore issued its first dollar and ASEAN was formed. You will also see some photos of national day in which Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew spoke about the future of Singapore being in the hands of the youth.
Perhaps that note is a fitting way to conclude my remarks.
I hope you find these reminiscences to be of interest. Why am I sharing all these with you?
When I was your age, the world was very different than it is today. No personal computers, no cell phones, no email, no text messengering, no flat screen TVs. No widespread terrorism and less concerns about the environment. A different social and political environment. It would have been hard, if not impossible, for me or anyone else to have imagined how much the world has changed.
Most of you will be around 50 years from now and even though I can’t begin to imagine the changes you will see, there will be many. Your world will look much different than it is today and we hope it will be exciting and wonderful. You will have many opportunities and challenges, both personally and professionally, along the way. You will have to learn new things and learn how to adapt to new surroundings.
Your SUTD education has prepared you for these changes by providing you with the skills and knowledge to make immediate impacts on your lives and on the world. But it has also provided a set of fundamentals – in science, technology, design, and arts, humanities and social science and your pillars. They have provided you an ability to be introspective and learn so that you can easily move with the times. Use what you have learned to navigate through the changes you will face, create a wonderful career for yourself, and make a better world by design. We, and the world, will be better off because of what you will do and contribute.
Here is to an exciting journey ahead.
Thank you.

1Some of the examples, data and language from the following are taken from The People History.