Boston University Commencement Speech
May 20, 2012
It’s great to be here on campus. It’s an honor to have been invited. It’s an honor to look out on the next generation of BU Terriers. I’ll give you a quote:
“I am a true adorer of life, and if I can’t reach as high as the face of it, I plant my kiss somewhere lower down. Those who understand will require no further explanation.”
Well, graduates … allow me to explain.
You used to have a professor here–a decent writer by the name of Saul Bellow. That comes from his novel Henderson the Rain King.
I stand before you today as someone who considers himself an adorer of life. I know what it’s like to plant a kiss on a life lived fully… And I can tell you from experience that, once you understand that, Professor Bellow’s right: that no further explanation is necessary.
It’s one quote from countless beautiful lines he wrote over his career. But I feel it best sums up an approach that contains the power to transform an ordinary life into one filled with grace and love and dignity.
And it also best sums up what a fantastic university like BU has infiltrated in every student who sets foot on this beautiful campus.
Scientists, engineers, writers, artists, business pioneers … governors … Olympic gold medalists … Oscar winners … cabinet secretaries … They all walked across this stage and left to make their mark on the culture, on society, on the world.
And, my God, Martin Luther King is Doctor King because of the PhD he received here.
And, now … you follow. You right here, sitting there now, baking in the sun, thinking about the Celtics game tomorrow, possibly nursing a hangover – there’s one down here I’ve been following – you’re saying, wow–that’s a lot of pressure. What can I do?
Where can I plant my kiss?
Well, that’s your question to answer. I can’t do it for you. But, here’s what I know. I know one thing for certain: No graduating class gets to choose the world they graduate into–just like you don’t get to choose your parents and siblings!
Every class has its own unique challenges. Every class enters a history that, up to that point, is being written for it.
This is no different.
What is different, though, is the chance that each generation has to take that history and make it larger — or, in my business, to program it better.
And, on that score, your generation’s opportunities are greater than any generation’s in modern history.
You can write the code for all of us.
You’re connecting to each other in ways those who came before you could never dream of.
And you’re using those connections to strengthen the invisible ties that hold humanity together, and to deepen our understanding of the world around us.
You are emblems of the sense of possibility that will define this new age.
In the past, it’s always older generations, standing up on high, trying to teach the next generation the ways of the world—trying to make sure they follow in their footsteps.
Well, graduates, I think it’s different today.
You’re, quite simply, teaching us.
This generation–your generation–is the first fully connected generation the world has ever known.
What’s the first thing you do when you get up? Right? Check your phone? Your laptop? Read some email, comb through your social networks?
I’m awake, here I am. You are connected, you’re online …
Some of you are probably texting your friends right now. Tweeting this speech. Changing your status. Smile, you’re on camera.
There’s this joke about the college kid getting mugged, who says, “Hold on—let me update my status, letting my friends know I’m getting mugged, then you can have my phone.” That didn’t happen, but it’s also telling — a stark depiction of just how essential technology has become to your generation’s identity and your ability to connect with the world.
Identity and connection—concepts as old as humanity itself—make up so much of what we are, who we are now. They shape our times, define the human condition.
Identity and connection–it is your task to take those timeworn concepts, spin them around, reinvigorate them, make them fresh and new and exciting.
Boston University has built the platform from which you can do that.
I know it’s daunting. It’s not a great economy to be walking off this stage into. I know all this.
But you have an advantage–a competitive edge–you have an innate mastery of technology, an ability to build and foster connections that no generation before you ever possessed. It’s a very, very special skill …
People bemoan a generation who grew up living life in front of screens, always connected to something or someone.
Those people are wrong.
The fact that we are all connected now is a blessing, not a curse, and we can solve many problems in the world as a result
Not only is it an advantage you have; it’s a responsibility you carry.
Today, there are 54 wars and conflicts going on. It’s terrible.
1.5 billion people live on less than $1 a day, and hundreds of millions of children will go to bed hungry tonight. It’s terrible.
Nearly half the world’s people don’t live under democratic governments – the rights we all enjoy are a rarity, they’re not a norm
And when it comes to the Internet, we think ‘everyone’ is online – and all of us are online now. But only 1 billion people have smartphones, and only 2 billion have access to the web today. For most of the world, Internet cafes are far-off digital oases in technological deserts. They don’t have access.
But in this century, there is a chance for change on the horizon. The spread of mobile phones and new forms of connectivity offers us the prospect of connecting everybody.
When that happens, connectivity can revolutionize every aspect of society – politically, socially, economically. To connect the world is to free the world, I say.
If we get this right, then we can fix all the world’s most pressing problems …to beam bright rays of hope to millions who can see only a flicker.
You have that power, right there, in your pockets right now.
Now, here’s the deal: Yes, it’s true, we have all this knowledge literally at our fingertips. But, just because we know much more than we used to doesn’t mean our problems just go away.
The future doesn’t just happen. It’s not etched or written or coded anywhere. There’s no algorithm or formula that says something will do X or Y to occur.
Technology doesn’t work on its own. It’s just a tool. You are the ones who harness its power.
And that requires innovation and entrepreneurship.
Innovation is disruptive; one thing I’ll tell you: you know you are innovating when people are worried about you! Graduates, please make people worry – not your parents.
Entrepreneurship is the lifeblood of a new economy, and a more prosperous society–the engine that keeps communities growing. Two-thirds of the new jobs created are in small businesses, and you all should try now to create a small business.. or be part of one… and, of course, I would recommend you use all the products Google has to offer to set it up.
You all have a chance to make an original contribution. Don’t just be a shepherd following somebody else’s vision and ideas–new models, new forms, new thinking — that’s what we need from you.
You don’t need to become an aid worker or a teacher (though, I obviously applaud those who do). You don’t need to be an engineer (though, I’m pretty sure I’d support that, too). Everyone–all of you–can make their mark by creating new standards of brilliance and innovation.
And, those standards can spread — can scale – they can scale in ways once unimaginable. The collective intelligence of our society, our version of the Borg, is really quite different.
Think of this as a new society, with shared norms and values, that crosses continents and unites all of us. The empowerment of each of us empowers all of us; and the distinctive feature of your new world is that you can be unique while being completely connected – never been possible before — a true fulfillment of the American Dream.
You see, computers can do amazing things. Those things in your pockets–they contain power inside them that your proud parents, your grandparents in the audience never could have possibly imagined.
These computers, they have speed. They have memory. They have intricately complicated wiring and unfathomably complex circuitry.
But here’s one thing they don’t have. What they don’t have — is heart.
All of these connections you forge–the digital ties that bind our humanity together–that’s not possible without technology. But it’s also not possible without you, without a heart.
You have the heart. And the future will not beat without you.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I believe fully in the power of technology to change the world for the better. And I believe even more fully in the ability of your generation to use that power to great effect–to rule technology. But you can’t let technology rule you.
Remember to take at least one hour a day and turn that thing off. Do the math, 1/24th. Go dark. Shut it down. Learn where the OFF button is.
Take your eyes off the screen, and look into the eyes of the that person you love.
Have a conversation–a real conversation–with the friends who make you think, with the family who makes you laugh.
Don’t just push a button saying I “Like” something. Actually tell them. What a concept!
Engage with the world around you … feel … and taste … and smell … and hug what’s there, right in front of you–not what’s a click away.
Life is not lived in the glow of a monitor. Life is not a series of status updates. Life is not about your friend count–it’s about the friends you can count on.
Life is about who you love, how you live, it’s about who you travel through the world with. Your family, your collaborators, your friends. Life is a social experience first, and the best aspects of that experience are not lonely ones–they are spent in the company of others.
Our modern landscape has changed, yes–but our humanity will always remain, and that, above all else, is what makes us who we are.
And who YOU are is a proud, talented group of BU Terriers.
Here you have all come to know extraordinary people. Look around – a few years ago you started off on the road with these people, knowing them as boys and girls, wandering around campus, dazed and overwhelmed.
Now you are all extraordinary men and women, in total control of your destinies, ready to make your mark not on history–but on the future.
And the friendships you forged when the times were good, when the times were bad – and when you realized you just overslept your lecture and needed someone’s notes to catch up with – those are the friendships that will matter for life.
The people you have met here will be some of the strongest friends and closest allies you will ever meet in your lives. It’s been that way for me.
When you leave here, don’t leave them behind. Don’t leave you behind. Stay close and stay strong. Take them with you wherever you go, and, together, connected, go and change the world.
At times it may have seemed like the road ahead was an impossible slog, incredible. But today, I have the distinct honor of telling you: you have made it.
Now that you’re here, I want you do to another thing: Find a way to say “Yes” to things.
Say yes to invitations to a new country, say yes to meet new friends, say yes to learning a new language, picking up a new sport .
Yes is how you get your first job, and your next job.
Yes is how you find your spouse, and even your kids.
Even if is a bit edgy, a bit out of your comfort zone, saying yes means that you will do something new, meet someone new, and make a difference in your life–and likely in others’ lives as well.
Yes lets you stand out in a crowd, to be the optimist, to stay positive, to be the one everyone comes to for help, for advice, or just for fun. Yes is what keeps us all young.
Yes is a tiny word that can do big things.
Say it often.
There’s a second thing I want you to do: Do not be afraid to fail. And DO NOT be afraid to succeed.
There’s an old Italian phrase I like, it’s used to describe especially daring circus performers–they do the salto mortale. It means they do a somersault, on a tightrope, without a net.
Graduates, do to do this. Be brave. Work without a net. I promise you, you will land on your feet.
For those who say you’re thinking too big … be smart enough not to listen.
For those who say the odds are too small … be dumb enough to give it a shot.
And for those who ask, how can you do that ?… look them in the eyes and say, I will figure it out.
Above all else, be an “adorer of life.” No further explanation necessary.
I, to be very clear, am happy to have you join us as adults, and the quicker we can have you lead, the better. Time to throw out all us aging baby boomers and replace us with those best-equipped to lead us into a new age, march us all to a better day.
The power and possibility — the intellectual energy and human electricity — seated in this stadium directly in front of me, and in stadiums and auditoriums like this around the country, your generation will break a new day.
Your vast knowledge will seed a new era.
Your new ideas will shape a new reality.
Your agile minds will inspire a new dawn.
You will give our future a heartbeat.
And that beat will be stronger than ever, because of you.
From my perspective looking at this class, you all have the potential to reach higher than any class — than any generation –that came before you. You can reach as high as the face of life itself.
Thank you, and congratulations to you all.