DuPont CEO Ellen Kullman is 2014 Commencement speaker

Reif: DuPont, MIT ‘kindred spirit[s]’ in collaboration

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Ellen Kullman, CEO of DuPont, will be the Commencement speaker for the 2014 Commencement in June.
Courtesy of DuPont

Ellen Kullman, the CEO and chairwoman of DuPont, will deliver the keynote Commencement speech in June 2014, MIT is expected to announce today. She will be the fourth speaker in five years at the helm of a science or technology company.

“At DuPont, we have used the power of science and our knowledge of the markets to transform industries for over two centuries,” Kullman told MIT’s news office. “I am honored to welcome the graduating class of MIT to join the global community of solvers, inventors, and leaders as we all work together to solve the world’s toughest challenges.”

In 1988, Kullman joined the company that brought the world neoprene, nylon, and Kevlar, and she became the chemical giant’s first female CEO in 2009. Since then, Forbes and Fortune have listed Kullman among the world’s most powerful women.

As CEO, Kullman has expressed her intentions to make DuPont more than a chemical company. In 2011 DuPont acquired Danisco, which produced food ingredients and other bioproducts, and last month DuPont spun off a major chemicals division that produced Teflon, the non-stick coating, and titanium dioxide, the pigment that makes paper white.

“The first 100 years we made explosives, the next 100 was modern chemistry and about 20 years ago we started in biotechnology. The next 100 years is going to be about integrating the sciences,” she told Forbes magazine.

DuPont has sponsored more than $50 million in research at dozens of MIT labs since 2000, records show. MIT President L. Rafael Reif said that a “sense of kindred spirit” of improving the world through science has informed this collaboration.

The final selection of the speaker is the president’s decision, according to Chancellor Eric Grimson PhD ’80, who chairs the Commencement committee. A subcommittee that includes faculty members as well as undergraduate and graduate student leaders is responsible for supplying a list of around 10 suggested names.

The shortlist was drawn up after Class of 2014 President Anika Gupta ’14 solicited names from students. Gupta said that the most popular choices were President Barack Obama and actor Robert Downey Jr., who portrays Marvel’s Iron Man. But Gupta said that she was happy to see the president choose speakers “clearly tailored to MIT graduates” in the past few years. “I think it makes sense for them to bring in and have us listen to some of the most inspiring engineering leaders of today,” she said.

Undergraduate Association President Sidhanth P. Rao ’14, who declined to say whether Kullman was in the shortlist or among the students’ suggestions, said that he saw parallels between MIT’s latest initiatives and its Commencement speaker choices. Salman A. Khan ’98, founder of Khan Academy, spoke to graduates in 2012 soon after the announcement of edX, the online education initiative founded by Harvard and MIT. The selection of Kullman comes on the heels of the formation of Reif’s new Innovation Initiative, which seeks to boost innovation in the manufacturing sector.

Unlike other colleges, MIT does not pay Commencement speakers or award them honorary degrees. “We want speakers who are motivated by the opportunity to speak to an MIT audience,” Grimson wrote in an email to The Tech.

Graduate Student Council President Caleb Waugh told the MIT News Office that he saw Kullman’s efforts to further science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education in the U.S. as aligned with MIT’s mission

Before joining DuPont as a marketing manager in 1988, Kullman worked for Westinghouse and General Electric. According to her company biography, Kullman moved steadily up the ranks at DuPont over the years, becoming vice president of a mineral products group in 1995, leading the safety resources and bio-based materials groups by 1999, assuming the role of executive vice president in 2006, and overseeing company growth in emerging markets by 2008. Kullman holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Tufts University and a master’s degree in management from Northwestern University.

Anonymous almost 10 years ago


Anonymous almost 10 years ago


Anonymous almost 10 years ago

This is SO disappointing. Clearly, MIT thought of its own political interests (kissing up to DuPont) instead of its students. I would MUCH rather have any of MIT's esteemed faculty, which is full of Nobel Prize Winners/MacArthur Fellows/etc., to speak at commencement.

Anonymous almost 10 years ago

Solicited names from students buried the form in a single e-mail that also contained info on the Iron Man 3 premiere/other events and giving 2014s six days to respond.

Anonymous almost 10 years ago

MIT thought of its own political interests (kissing up to DuPont) instead of its students

top lel.. did you see what MIT kids asked for? Obama and Robert Downey Jr.?! What next? The actor from Ender's Game?! Harry Potter? Joe Biden? Bozo the Clown?

Anonymous almost 10 years ago


Commenter 3 here. If you read my whole comment, you would have noticed that I mentioned MIT faculty as greatly preferred alternatives. I filled out the form, listing several MIT alums and professors as possible choices. Clearly you have limited knowledge of the answers submitted by the 2014s, because intelligent and reasonable suggestions were provided.

Cory almost 10 years ago

5: We could get the President or anyone high up. We've been ranked the number 1 university in the world. And we have gotten Presidents in the past. So it's not outrageous for people to suggest Obama. For our Class President (if you read her tone) to dismiss such a suggestion on face value is actually disappointing; she should have advocated on our behalf, as she was tasked to do, which means advocating for whom we want.

Anonymous almost 10 years ago

Cory: The point wasn't that MIT isn't good enough. It's that Obama is a pretty bad choice. And seriously, Robert Downey Jr?! Are you kidding me?

Anonymous almost 10 years ago

I'm sorry, could someone please explain why Ellen Kullman is not an amazing and inspirational woman?

Anonymous almost 10 years ago

Ellen Kullman is definitely an amazing woman, but I think the source of the disagreement is that students are supposed to be very involved in the selection of the speaker at their own commencement. It's the 2014's big celebration -- what's wrong with inviting a celebrity? MIT doesn't need to use commencement to further its industry ties. I'm sure she'll give a great speech, but will people remember it if they don't remember her?

Just a thought.