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.
(Boston) – Speaking to over 6,700 Boston University graduates and 20,000 guests at today’s 139th commencement at Nickerson Field, Google Chairman, Eric Schmidt, encouraged the class of 2012 to identify and connect as “they shape our times, define the human condition.”
“Boston University has built the platform from which you can do that,” stated Schmidt, who was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science degree by BU President Dr. Robert A. Brown. “I know it’s daunting. I know it’s not a great economy to be walking off this stage into. I know all this.
“But I know 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. 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.”
Schmidt concluded his address by telling the BU class of 2012 “I for one 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, and in stadiums and auditoriums like this around the country–your generation will break a new day.”
The Honorable Sandra Lynch, chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals First Circuit, kicked-off today’s formal commencement events at New England’s largest graduation ceremony, by delivering the Commencement Day baccalaureate address at Marsh Chapel. Lynch later received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree at the main service.
Also receiving honorary degrees at Commencement were: former chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin Corporation, Norman Augustine (Doctor of Science); Vietnam Medal of Honor recipient, Thomas G. Kelley (Doctor of Laws); and noted actor, Leonard Nimoy (Doctor of Humane Letters).
Leila Belmahi (CAS’12) delivered the student address.
High-resolution digital photography:
- 2012 BU Commencement participant photos can be downloaded at the following URL (password: BostonU, case sensitive): http://buphotos.photoshelter.com/gallery/Boston-University-Honorary-Degrees-2012/G00002j6WoNuFrm0
- 2012 BU Commencement ceremony photos can be downloaded at the following gallery (password: buphotos): http://buphotos.photoshelter.com/gallery/2012-Boston-University-Commencement/G0000ihNV75nBBwE (Note: this link will lead to a blank page until BU Photography populates it, beginning Sunday afternoon.)
Complete info on BU’s 139th commencement weekend, including individual convocation ceremonies, can be found at: http://www.bu.edu/commencement/2011/index.shtml. You can also follow us on Twitter or find us on Facebook for continuous updates.
Founded in 1839, Boston University is an internationally recognized private research university with more than 30,000 students participating in undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs. BU consists of 16 colleges and schools along with a number of multi-disciplinary centers and institutes which are central to the school’s research and teaching mission.
Sandra L. Lynch
U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
Boston University Baccalaureate Speech
May 20, 2012
Thank you, Dean Hill, for such a warm introduction.
It is clear Boston University has thrived under President Brown’s leadership. Among his other attributes, it is impossible to say “no” to him. After I had accepted, with pleasure, the President’s invitation to receive an honorary degree, only then did he tell me he would like me to give this Baccalaureate address.
I feel a bit like those medieval minstrels, or even little Tommy Tucker from the nursery rhyme, who had to sing first before having supper. What a glorious supper this occasion is, filled with joy and pride, and hope, and expectations.
This morning’s service envelops you in the spiritual realm. Later today you honor people of distinction from technology, and commerce, the arts, the sciences, and military service. I want to speak of the civil realm: the realm of citizenship, of love of country, and of your government.
One of the greatest fortunes of your lives is that you are participants in our American democracy, with its independent judiciary and its system of justice. Our democracy is built on both the checks and balances structure of the three branches of government and on the Constitution and its Bill of Rights, limiting government.
The executive and legislative branches are meant to reflect the political will of the voters. In the judicial branch, unlike the other two branches, we judges take an oath of impartiality, not to be partisan, to do our jobs “without fear or favor.”
This system is the envy of the world. Your counterparts elsewhere, in the Arab Spring, in Russia, in Syria, in Iran, in China, in Chile, to give a few examples, have put their lives at risk to achieve what you have.
Dr. Martin Luther King said: “There is nothing in the world greater than freedom.” Under our secular “sacred” text, the U.S. Constitution, you enjoy considerable freedoms, including the freedom of academic inquiry here at Boston University. You have freedom to worship your own religion and not be forced to join another. You enjoy the freedom from arbitrary police and government action.
Perhaps most significantly, you have the ability to change your government and your country. You enjoy freedom of speech, of association, and the benefits of free press. You have the ability to vote, the ability to communicate your views, and the ability to associate together with others to challenge and change a government you do not like. You have the ability to make laws and to change the laws, and to do so in order to address the problems which you face.
These freedoms are important human values in their own right and worth preserving. As Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has said, our Constitutional values are not embedded in the human gene code. Far from it: they must be taught, and valued, and used, lest they be lost.
Our system of government has worked remarkably well for over two centuries. It has gotten our country through profound problems and changed who we are, and done so for the better. My own life experiences tell me that is true, and it will be true for you.
When I came to BU, our country was rocked by unrest and faced difficult issues. My generation wondered if we would survive. It was the era of the possibility of nuclear annihilation, of the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, and the anti-war movement. Blatant race and gender discrimination were prevalent. Extreme inequities in access to opportunity had led to demonstrations, riots, the burning of neighborhoods and clashes with police. During this time and in the Boston area, I was tear gassed while marching to protest the war in Vietnam and I was called foul names by ugly crowds when I marched with people of color in favor of civil rights. Talk of revolution and dissolution was in the air.
My fears about the future were captured in the words of William Butler Yeats, in his poem “The Second Coming.” He wrote: “Things fall apart, the center cannot hold. Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” The problems then were daunting. But under our democracy, we got through them.
The hymn we just sang at this service was “Behold a broken world.” You know better than I the problems of this broken world and that you and your country must somehow address them.
There is much corrosive cynicism today, much polarization, much lack of civility. Some say they have no faith in government to address problems. You could reasonably ask whether the fact that our democracy has not failed us in the past is any assurance at all that it will lead you to solutions in the future.
My response is that our democratic form of government and the tools the Constitution gives you provide some of the best ways you have of addressing current problems. And I also answer that, if you do not use those tools, including your right to vote, to speak and to organize in order to assure government will be honest, responsive and to be relevant, the chances of your finding solutions are considerably less.
You are graduating and being asked to take responsibility for yourself and your own life. The scope of that responsibility goes beyond yourself, to the sort of society in which you live. President John F. Kennedy famously said, “to ask not what your country could do for you, but what you could do for your country.” Your country needs you.
That responsibility means the preserving of the institutions of your democracy, which are the institutions of government.
It also means exercising those freedoms that the Constitution has given you, and to do so in order to shape your society and your futures.
BU students often have done so before. Forty five years ago, students on this campus used those tools and changed our country. Defying a state law, a man named William Baird gave a lecture at Boston University to over 2,000 students. The topic was birth control. An unmarried 19-year-old female student accepted from Baird some contraceptive foam. Married people, but not unmarried people, could legally be given contraception. Baird was arrested and convicted for violating a state law prohibiting distribution of contraceptives to unmarried people. The penalty was up to five years of imprisonment.
The whole event had been deliberately set up on the BU campus in order to bring a constitutional challenge. The federal court on which I now sit held the statute unconstitutional and released Baird on the writ of habeas corpus. In 1972 the Supreme Court agreed, in a case is called Eisenstadt v. Baird, after the then Sheriff and Mr. Baird. When the story is told, it is most often about Baird, who deserves great credit.
Let me shift the perspective. Of all the college campuses in Boston, this took place at BU and that does not surprise me – - BU has always looked to the future. More than that, credit must be given to the BU students who went to the lecture, and particularly to the unmarried 19-year-old female undergraduate, who made the test case possible. Those students wanted to change an unjust law and to expand the protection of individual freedoms. This was no small matter and it was not just about contraceptives. The overturning of the state law led to the development of doctrines of constitutionally protected personal privacy, which have reshaped our society.
These changes take time, they take patience, they take perseverance. As Dr. King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
You have keys to affect your future and to take steps to be sure that “the center holds.” Take responsibility. Go forward with your intelligence, your education, and with courage. And use all the tools and freedoms our American democracy and its system of law give you. No one is better suited than you.
We give into your hands the safekeeping of our Constitution and our democracy. Please, we ask you, keep them safe and flourishing.
CONTACT: Kira Jastive 617-358-1240 or firstname.lastname@example.org
(Boston) – Boston University today announced that Eric E. Schmidt, executive chairman of Google, will deliver the commencement address at Boston University’s 139th graduation ceremonies at BU’s Nickerson Field at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday, May 20.
Mr. Schmidt will speak before more than 5,000 graduates and 20,000 guests at New England’s largest graduation ceremony. Schmidt will receive an honorary Doctor of Science.
BU President Robert A. Brown announced the commencement, baccalaureate speakers and honorary degree recipients to the members of the Class of 2012 this morning at the annual Senior Breakfast, held at the George Sherman Union.
Brown also revealed that The Honorable Sandra Lynch, chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals First Circuit, will deliver the Commencement Day baccalaureate address at 11:00 a.m. at Marsh Chapel. Lynch will receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.
The prestigious list of honorary degree recipients also includes former chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin Corporation, Norman Augustine (Doctor of Science); Vietnam Medal of Honor recipient, Thomas G. Kelley (Doctor of Laws); and noted actor, Leonard Nimoy (Doctor of Humane Letters).
Also announced today are the recipients of BU’s Metcalf Cup and Prize and Metcalf Awards for Excellence in Teaching. Receiving the esteemed Metcalf Cup is Andrew Duffy, master lecturer of Physics at the College of Arts and Sciences. This year’s Metcalf Award winners are Marisa Milanese, lecturer in the Arts & Sciences Writing Program; and Robert Lowe, associate professor of Medicine at the School of Medicine. The Metcalf Cup carries with it a prize of $10,000 and the Metcalf Award winners receive $5,000. Students, faculty and alumni nominate candidates for the awards established in 1973 by a gift from the late Boston University Board of Trustees chairman emeritus Arthur G.B. Metcalf.
Since joining Google in 2001, Eric Schmidt has helped grow the company from a Silicon Valley startup to a global leader in technology. As executive chairman, he is responsible for the external matters of Google: building partnerships and broader business relationships, government outreach and technology thought leadership, as well as advising the CEO and senior leadership on business and policy issues.
From 2001-2011, Schmidt served as Google’s chief executive officer, overseeing the company’s technical and business strategy alongside founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page. Under his leadership, Google dramatically scaled its infrastructure and diversified its product offerings while maintaining a strong culture of innovation.
Prior to joining Google, Schmidt was the chairman and CEO of Novell and chief technology officer at Sun Microsystems, Inc. Previously, he served on the research staff at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), Bell Laboratories and Zilog. He holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Princeton University as well as a master’s degree and Ph.D. in computer science from the University of California, Berkeley.
Schmidt is a member of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and the Prime Minister’s Advisory Council in the U.K. He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2006 and inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences as a fellow in 2007. He also chairs the board of the New America Foundation, and since 2008 has been a trustee of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey.
Founded in 1839, Boston University is an internationally recognized private research university with more than 30,000 students participating in undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs. BU consists of 17 colleges and schools along with a number of multi-disciplinary centers and institutes which are central to the school’s research and teaching mission.
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High-resolution digital photographs of the 2011 BU Commencement participants can be downloaded at: