The last MIT graduating class ever

by Bruce Kasanoff on June 15, 2010

In 2014, Jamal and Kathy were part of the last class to ever graduate from MIT. A few months later, the University decided that the notion of “graduation” was outdated, that entrance to MIT should be synonymous with a commitment to the lifelong learning necessary to keep one competitive in a rapidly changing world.

Eight years later, with kids aged four and six, the couple had trouble remembering how narrowly focused our educational system used to be. All the top universities had embraced the lifelong learning concept, and schools were starting to be replaced with a hybrid blend of community centers and self-paced learning programs. Students spent much of their time working with digital learning tools, interacted with peers and teachers via such tools, and gathered in person only when it made sense to do so.

It was now common to have 14 year olds in online classes with people twice their age, and 60 year olds were no longer segregated in elder programs. Kathy had been taking two classes at a time ever since she physically left the MIT campus, and Jamal both taught and took one course without more than a three weeks break.

“I love it,” explained Kathy. “It keeps me sharp, makes me question our limits, and exposes me to new ideas.”

Jamal, who initially thought the end of graduation was the worst idea he ever heard, had switched views 180 degrees. “I much prefer the Mastery ceremonies we now have. Being able to reach a level of mastery regardless of whether you are ten or 65 makes so much more sense. We celebrate growth, rather than completion of a fixed amount of time and effort.”

The transition to a mastery-based system was wrenching. For many people, there is comfort in structure and predictability. In four years, you get a high school degree. In four more, you get a college degree. It was great concept, except millions of people went through the process and still lacked the skills and mindset to succeed over a 40 or 50 year career.

“The reality is that our economy, culture and tools change far too rapidly to make it possible for education to end at the age of 22,” says Kathy. “I’m so glad our kids will never have to sit in a boring classroom five days a week, eight months out of the year. The world they are inheriting is starting to make so much more sense than I ever expected it would.”

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