Noubar Afeyan PhD ’87 to deliver MIT’s 2024 Commencement address
Noubar Afeyan PhD ’87, an inventor and parallel entrepreneur with a penchant for bold ideas, will deliver the address at the OneMIT Commencement Ceremony on Thursday, May 30.
Afeyan is the founder and CEO of the venture creation company Flagship Pioneering, which founds companies that build biotechnology platforms to transform human health and sustainability. Since its founding in 2000, the company has built more than 100 science-based companies; Flagship-founded companies currently have more than 60 drugs in clinical development.
One of Afeyan’s most well-known successes is Moderna, which invented and produced an effective Covid-19 vaccine approved and deployed to billions of people in more than 70 countries. Currently the company’s chairman, he co-founded Moderna working with his team at Flagship and three academic co-founders in 2010, when the idea of using messenger RNA in therapies was virtually unheard of. But Afeyan has long been known for asking unconventional “What if?” questions and building companies with visionary goals. “Why mightn’t you think you can actually change the world?” he said in a 2021 interview with Forbes.
“You might expect that after Moderna’s success in bringing lifesaving Covid-19 vaccines to the world, Noubar might rest on his laurels. But he isn’t that kind of entrepreneur,” says MIT President Sally Kornbluth. “In fact, he cautions that anyone seeking to benefit humanity on a large scale should avoid getting comfortable. He’s not afraid to make long-shot, long-term bets, investing in the most innovative science for the biggest impact. We are delighted to welcome Noubar to share his bold, dynamic outlook with the Class of 2024.”
“MIT is a place where audacious ideas abound, thanks in large part to its remarkable students. I’m thrilled to address the Class of 2024 as they prepare to make an impact in the world. We need their curiosity, imagination, inventiveness, courage, and determination — now more than ever,” Afeyan says.
A member of the MIT Corporation, Afeyan has a long relationship with the Institute. He earned his PhD in biochemical engineering at MIT in 1987 and was a senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management for 16 years, starting in 2000. Among other activities, he serves on the advisory board of the MIT Abdul Latif Jameel Clinic for Machine Learning, and has spoken at numerous Institute events, including MIT Solve.
“Afeyan has shown repeatedly that outstanding scientific talent, when relentlessly focused on audacious goals, can yield breakthroughs that several thought were impossible. His prolific record of invention, along with his coaching, funding, and mentoring of scores of science-driven startup businesses, provides a user’s guide on how to channel advances in science and technology to promote the public good,” says James Poterba, the Mitsui Professor of Economics and the chair of the Commencement Committee.
Born in Beirut to Armenian parents, Afeyan is a staunch advocate for the contributions of immigrants to economic and scientific progress. He is the co-founder of the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity and a number of other philanthropic projects.
“I’m excited to learn from Dr. Afeyan as our commencement speaker. His work in biotechnology and entrepreneurship is truly inspiring, and I can’t wait to hear the insights and experiences that he will share with us,” senior class president Penny Brant says.
“I hold great admiration for the groundbreaking work of Moderna and its revolutionary vaccine development. Dr. Afeyan’s contributions to the field of biotechnology are truly commendable. As the UA president and a representative of my constituents, I am interested to hear what insights he will share with our graduating class,” Andre Hamelberg, president of the Undergraduate Association, says.
“I think it’s great that our speaker will have shared so several of our experiences. I’m excited for what advice he will offer us all,” Mikala Molina, president of the Graduate Student Council, says.
Afeyan joins notable recent MIT Commencement speakers including YouTuber and inventor Mark Rober (2023); Director-General of the World Trade Organization Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (2022); lawyer and social justice activist Bryan Stevenson (2021); retired United States. Navy four-star admiral William McRaven (2020); three-term New York City mayor and philanthropist Michael Bloomberg (2019); and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg (2018).
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