Google’s Schmidt to Graduates: “Be the Adorer of Life”
Urges Class of 2012 to say “yes”
It seemed particularly fitting that Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google, was chosen to deliver the address at yesterday’s 139th Commencement ceremony. After all, most graduates had just entered elementary school when the firm was founded in 1998. Since then, the Class of 2012 has looked to the giant search engine for answers to many of life’s questions. On Sunday, graduates and a crowd of approximately 20,000 listened intently for answers Schmidt might provide to the question looming over Nickerson Field: what to do after leaving BU.
“Every class enters a history that, up to that point, is being written for it,” Schmidt said. “This is no different. What is different, though, is the chance that each generation has to make history, and to make it larger.” On that score, he told the graduating class, “your generation’s opportunities are greater than any generation’s in modern history.
“You can write the code for all of us,” Schmidt said. “You’re connected to each other in ways those who came before you could never have dreamed of. You’re using these connections to strengthen the invisible ties that hold humanity together and to deepen our understanding of the world around us.”
Under a brilliant blue sky, with temperatures hovering around 80 degrees, Schmidt delivered his remarks after receiving an honorary Doctor of Science from President Robert A. Brown. His address to the 3,300-plus graduating seniors—some wearing bedazzling caps or ones bearing personal messages to family and friends—was a mix of humor and advice, with nods to BU life and lore.
Google was started by Stanford doctoral students Larry Page and Sergey Brin in 1998. Schmidt acknowledged how much the world has changed in the intervening decade and a half. This class of graduates is plugged in nearly every waking moment to smartphones, laptops, and social networks, reinforcing, or reimagining, their identity and level of connection to one another. And that, he said, is a very good thing.
“People bemoan this generation that is growing up living life in front of screens, always connected to something or someone,” Schmidt said. “These people are wrong. They’re absolutely wrong. The fact that we’re all connected now is a blessing, not a curse, and we can solve many, many problems in the world as a result.”
But Schmidt reminded the graduates that technology can take them only so far. “It’s a tool,” he said. “You are the ones who will harness that power. And that requires innovation and entrepreneurship.” He encouraged graduates to shake up the status quo and not to be afraid to launch small businesses. “And, of course, I would recommend that you use all the products that Google has to offer to set it up,” he joked.
The last ingredient to success in a technologically interconnected world, Schmidt said, is something everyone carries with them: a heart. “You have the heart,” he said. “And the future will not beat without you.”
The 57-year-old business and technology guru drew on his own considerable experience in his remarks. After earning an electrical engineering degree from Princeton University and a master’s and a doctorate in computer science from the University of California, Berkeley, Schmidt worked at a number of big-name tech companies, including Bell Laboratories, Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), Sun Microsystems (now part of Oracle), and software provider Novell, before being recruited to helm Google in 2001. Now as executive chairman, he continues advising Google’s senior management and is responsible for government outreach and for building the company’s partnerships and broader business relationships.
While he has spent most of his life in the technology sector, Schmidt learned long ago not to let it rule his life, he said, and advised graduates to do the same. He urged them to “turn that thing off” at least one hour a day, to have “real” conversations with friends and family, to experience the world around them through their senses and not just a screen. “Life,” he said, “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 count on.”
Schmidt had another piece of advice for graduates as well. He urged them to say yes to opportunities in life. “Yes,” he said, is “a tiny word that can do very big things. Yes lets you stand out in a crowd.” Quoting from Henderson the Rain King, a novel written by the late BU Professor Emeritus Saul Bellow (Hon.’04), he urged graduates above all to be an “adorer of life.”
The Commencement ceremony began on a decidedly somber note. Brown asked the assembled crowd to stand and join him in a moment of silence to honor four students who had died in the past month. He then solemnly read the name of each student: Kanagala Seshadri “Sesh” Rao (GSM’13), who was shot to death in Allston in late April, and Austin Brashears (ENG’13), Roch Jauberty (CAS’14), and Daniela Lekhno (SMG’13), all killed last weekend in a car accident while studying abroad in New Zealand.
Later in the ceremony, Brown reminded the graduates that as they prepared to depart Nickerson Field, they were joining a long and industrious line of BU graduates, some 300,000 living alumni around the world. “Your accomplishments will be part of the fabric of our legacy,” he said. “Your Boston University education has prepared you to go—go into the world and make it a better place for all of us and for all future generations.”
Brown also presented three faculty members with the University’s highest teaching honors. The Metcalf Cup and Prize for Excellence in Teaching was awarded to Andrew Duffy, a College of Arts & Sciences master lecturer in physics, and Metcalf Awards for Excellence in Teaching were presented to Robert C. Lowe, a School of Medicine associate professor of gastroenterology, and Marisa Milanese, a CAS senior lecturer in the Writing Program.
Besides Schmidt, other honorary degree recipients were Norman Augustine, an aeronautical engineer and a public servant, Doctor of Science; U.S. Navy Captain Thomas Kelley, former Massachusetts secretary of veterans services and a Medal of Honor winner, Doctor of Laws; Leonard Nimoy, an actor, a director, and a photographer, Doctor of Humane Letters; and Sandra Lynch (LAW’71), chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, Doctor of Laws.5 Comments