Videos and transcripts of speeches by famous people, past and present, real and fictional
Posts tagged advice: 10

Admiral William H. McRaven: Commencement Address, University of Texas at Austin, 2014

William McRaven is an admiral in the US Navy and Commander of Special Operations, which includes the SEALs. He gave this commencement address to students at his former college in 2014.

The video is from the University of Texas at Austin Youtube channel, and the transcript from Lightbuzz.

William McRaven:

President Powers, Provost Fenves, Deans, members of the faculty, family and friends and most importantly, the class of 2014. It is indeed an honor to be here tonight.

It’s been almost 37 years to the day that I graduated from UT.

I remember a lot of things about that day.

I remember I had a throbbing headache from a party the night before. I remember I had a serious girlfriend, whom I later married—that’s important to remember by the way—and I remember that I was getting commissioned in the Navy that day.

But of all the things I remember, I don’t have a clue who the commencement speaker was that evening and I certainly don’t remember anything they said.

So…acknowledging that fact—if I can’t make this commencement speech memorable—I will at least try to make it short.

The University’s slogan is,

“What starts here changes the world.”

I have to admit—I kinda like it.

“What starts here changes the world.”

Tonight there are almost 8,000 students graduating from UT.

That great paragon of analytical rigor, Ask.Com says that the average American will meet 10,000 people in their lifetime.

That’s a lot of folks.

But, if every one of you changed the lives of just ten people—and each one of those folks changed the lives of another ten people—just ten—then in five generations—125 years—the class of 2014 will have changed the lives of 800 million people.

800 million people—think of it—over twice the population of the United States. Go one more generation and you can change the entire population of the world—8 billion people.

If you think it’s hard to change the lives of ten people—change their lives forever—you’re wrong.

I saw it happen every day in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A young Army officer makes a decision to go left instead of right down a road in Baghdad and the ten soldiers in his squad are saved from close-in ambush.

In Kandahar province, Afghanistan, a non-commissioned officer from the Female Engagement Team senses something isn’t right and directs the infantry platoon away from a 500 pound IED, saving the lives of a dozen soldiers.

But, if you think about it, not only were these soldiers saved by the decisions of one person, but their children yet unborn—were also saved. And their children’s children—were saved.

Generations were saved by one decision—by one person.

But changing the world can happen anywhere and anyone can do it.

So, what starts here can indeed change the world, but the question is… what will the world look like after you change it?

Well, I am confident that it will look much, much better, but if you will humor this old sailor for just a moment, I have a few suggestions that may help you on your way to a better a world.

And while these lessons were learned during my time in the military, I can assure you that it matters not whether you ever served a day in uniform.

It matters not your gender, your ethnic or religious background, your orientation, or your social status.

Our struggles in this world are similar and the lessons to overcome those struggles and to move forward—changing ourselves and the world around us—will apply equally to all.

I have been a Navy SEAL for 36 years. But it all began when I left UT for Basic SEAL training in Coronado, California.

Basic SEAL training is six months of long torturous runs in the soft sand, midnight swims in the cold water off San Diego, obstacles courses, unending calisthenics, days without sleep and always being cold, wet and miserable.

It is six months of being constantly harassed by professionally trained warriors who seek to find the weak of mind and body and eliminate them from ever becoming a Navy SEAL.

But, the training also seeks to find those students who can lead in an environment of constant stress, chaos, failure and hardships.

To me basic SEAL training was a life time of challenges crammed into six months.

So, here are the ten lessons I learned from basic SEAL training that hopefully will be of value to you as you move forward in life.

Every morning in basic SEAL training, my instructors, who at the time were all Vietnam veterans, would show up in my barracks room and the first thing they would inspect was your bed.

If you did it right, the corners would be square, the covers pulled tight, the pillow centered just under the headboard and the extra blanket folded neatly at the foot of the rack.

It was a simple task—mundane at best. But every morning we were required to make our bed to perfection. It seemed a little ridiculous at the time, particularly in light of the fact that were aspiring to be real warriors, tough battle hardened SEALs—but the wisdom of this simple act has been proven to me many times over.

If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another.

And by the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that the little things in life matter.

If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.

And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made — that you made — and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.

#1. So if you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.

During SEAL training the students are all broken down into boat crews. Each crew is seven students—three on each side of a small rubber boat and one coxswain to help guide the dingy.

Every day your boat crew forms up on the beach and is instructed to get through the surf zone and paddle several miles down the coast.

In the winter, the surf off San Diego can get to be 8 to 10 feet high and it is exceedingly difficult to paddle through the plunging surf unless everyone digs in.

Every paddle must be synchronized to the stroke count of the coxswain. Everyone must exert equal effort or the boat will turn against the wave and be unceremoniously tossed back on the beach.

For the boat to make it to its destination, everyone must paddle.

You can’t change the world alone —you will need some help — and to truly get from your starting point to your destination takes friends, colleagues, the goodwill of strangers and a strong coxswain to guide you.

#2. If you want to change the world, find someone to help you paddle.

Over a few weeks of difficult training my SEAL class which started with 150 men was down to just 42. There were now six boat crews of seven men each.

I was in the boat with the tall guys, but the best boat crew we had was made up of the the little guys — the munchkin crew we called them — no one was over about 5-foot five.

The munchkin boat crew had one American Indian, one African American, one Polish American, one Greek American, one Italian American, and two tough kids from the mid-west.

They out-paddled, out-ran, and out-swam all the other boat crews.

The big men in the other boat crews would always make good-natured fun of the tiny little flippers the munchkins put on their tiny little feet prior to every swim.

But somehow these little guys, from every corner of the Nation and the world, always had the last laugh — swimming faster than everyone and reaching the shore long before the rest of us.

SEAL training was a great equalizer. Nothing mattered but your will to succeed. Not your color, not your ethnic background, not your education and not your social status.

#3. If you want to change the world, measure a person by the size of their heart, not the size of their flippers.

Several times a week, the instructors would line up the class and do a uniform inspection. It was exceptionally thorough.

Your hat had to be perfectly starched, your uniform immaculately pressed and your belt buckle shiny and void of any smudges.

But it seemed that no matter how much effort you put into starching your hat, or pressing your uniform or polishing your belt buckle — it just wasn’t good enough.

The instructors would find something wrong.

For failing the uniform inspection, the student had to run, fully clothed into the surfzone and then, wet from head to toe, roll around on the beach until every part of your body was covered with sand.

The effect was known as a sugar cookie. You stayed in the uniform the rest of the day — cold, wet and sandy.

There were many a student who just couldn’t accept the fact that all their effort was in vain. That no matter how hard they tried to get the uniform right — it went unappreciated.

Those students didn’t make it through training.

Those students didn’t understand the purpose of the drill. You were never going to succeed. You were never going to have a perfect uniform.

The instructors weren’t going to allow it. Sometimes no matter how well you prepare or how well you perform you still end up as a sugar cookie.

It’s just the way life is sometimes.

#4. If you want to change the world, get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward.

Every day during training you were challenged with multiple physical events — long runs, long swims, obstacle courses, hours of calisthenics—something designed to test your mettle.

Every event had standards — times you had to meet. If you failed to meet those time, those standards, your name was posted on a list and at the end of the day those on the list were invited to a circus.

A circus was two hours of additional calisthenics — designed to wear you down, to break your spirit, to force you to quit.

No one wanted a circus.

A circus meant that for that day you didn’t measure up. A circus meant more fatigue — and more fatigue meant that the following day would be more difficult — and more circuses were likely.

But at some time during SEAL training, everyone — everyone — made the circus list.

But an interesting thing happened to those who were constantly on the list. Over time those students – who did two hours of extra calisthenics — got stronger and stronger.

The pain of the circuses built inner strength and physical resiliency.

Life is filled with circuses.

You will fail. You will likely fail often. It will be painful. It will be discouraging. At times it will test you to your very core.

#5. But if you want to change the world, don’t be afraid of the circuses.

At least twice a week, the trainees were required to run the obstacle course. The obstacle course contained 25 obstacles including a 10-foot wall, a 30-foot cargo net, a barbed wire crawl to name a few.

But the most challenging obstacle was the slide for life. It had a three level 30-foot tower at one end and a one-level tower at the other. In between was a 200-foot long rope.

You had to climb the three-tiered tower and once at the top, you grabbed the rope, swung underneath the rope and pulled yourself hand over hand until you got to the other end.

The record for the obstacle course had stood for years when my class began training in 1977.

The record seemed unbeatable, until one day, a student decided to go down the slide for life—head first.

Instead of swinging his body underneath the rope and inching his way down, he bravely mounted the TOP of the rope and thrust himself forward.

It was a dangerous move — seemingly foolish, and fraught with risk. Failure could mean injury and being dropped from the training.

Without hesitation — the student slid down the rope —perilously fast. Instead of several minutes, it only took him half that time and by the end of the course he had broken the record.

#6. If you want to change the world sometimes you have to slide down the obstacles head first.

During the land warfare phase of training, the students are flown out to San Clemente island which lies off the coast of San Diego.

The waters off San Clemente are a breeding ground for the great white sharks. To pass SEAL training there are a series of long swims that must be completed. One is the night swim.

Before the swim the instructors joyfully brief the students on all the species of sharks that inhabit the waters off San Clemente.

They assure you, however, that no student has ever been eaten by a shark — at least not that they can remember.

But, you are also taught that if a shark begins to circle your position — stand your ground. Do not swim away. Do not act afraid.

And if the shark, hungry for a midnight snack, darts towards you, then summons up all your strength and punch him in the snout and he will turn and swim away.

There are a lot of sharks in the world. If you hope to complete the swim you will have to deal with them.

#7. So, if you want to change the world, don’t back down from the sharks.

As Navy SEALs, one of our jobs is to conduct underwater attacks against enemy shipping. We practiced this technique extensively during basic training.

The ship attack mission is where a pair of SEAL divers is dropped off outside an enemy harbor and then swims well over two miles—underwater—using nothing but a depth gauge and a compass to get to their target.

During the entire swim, even well below the surface there is some light that comes through. It is comforting to know that there is open water above you.

But as you approach the ship, which is tied to a pier, the light begins to fade. The steel structure of the ship blocks the moonlight — it blocks the surrounding street lamps — it blocks all ambient light.

To be successful in your mission, you have to swim under the ship and find the keel — the center line and the deepest part of the ship.

This is your objective. But the keel is also the darkest part of the ship — where you cannot see your hand in front of your face, where the noise from the ship’s machinery is deafening and where it gets to be easily disoriented and fail.

Every SEAL knows that under the keel, at the darkest moment of the mission — is the time when you need to be calm, when you must be calm, composed — when all your tactical skills, your physical power and all your inner strength must be brought to bear.

#8. If you want to change the world, you must be your very best in the darkest moment.

The ninth week of training is referred to as “Hell Week.” It is six days of no sleep, constant physical and mental harassment and one special day at the Mud Flats. The Mud Flats are an area between San Diego and Tijuana where the water runs off and creates the Tijuana Slues — a swampy patch of terrain where the mud will engulf you.

It is on Wednesday of Hell Week that you paddle down to the mud flats and spend the next 15 hours trying to survive the freezing cold mud, the howling wind and the incessant pressure to quit from the instructors.

As the sun began to set that Wednesday evening, my training class, having committed some “egregious infraction of the rules” was ordered into the mud.

The mud consumed each man till there was nothing visible but our heads. The instructors told us we could leave the mud if only five men would quit — only five men, just five men, and we could get out of the oppressive cold.

Looking around the mud flat it was apparent that some students were about to give up. It was still over eight hours till the sun came up — eight more hours of bone chilling cold.

The chattering teeth and shivering moans of the trainees were so loud it was hard to hear anything and then, one voice began to echo through the night — one voice raised in song.

The song was terribly out of tune, but sung with great enthusiasm.

One voice became two and two became three and before long everyone in the class was singing.

We knew that if one man could rise above the misery then others could as well.

The instructors threatened us with more time in the mud if we kept up the singing — but the singing persisted.

And somehow, the mud seemed a little warmer, the wind a little tamer and the dawn not so far away.

If I have learned anything in my time traveling the world, it is the power of hope. The power of one person — a Washington, a Lincoln, King, Mandela and even a young girl from Pakistan — Malala — one person can change the world by giving people hope.

#9. So, if you want to change the world, start singing when you’re up to your neck in mud.

Finally, in SEAL training there is a bell. A brass bell that hangs in the center of the compound for all the students to see.

All you have to do to quit is ring the bell. Ring the bell and you no longer have to wake up at 5 o’clock. Ring the bell and you no longer have to be in the freezing cold swims.

Ring the bell and you no longer have to do the runs, the obstacle course, the PT — and you no longer have to endure the hardships of training.

All you have to do is ring the bell to get out.

#10. If you want to change the world don’t ever, ever ring the bell.

To the graduating class of 2014, you are moments away from graduating. Moments away from beginning your journey through life. Moments away from starting to change the world — for the better.

It will not be easy.

But, you are the class of 2014—the class that can affect the lives of 800 million people in the next century.

Start each day with a task completed.

Find someone to help you through life.

Respect everyone.

Know that life is not fair and that you will fail often, but if you take take some risks, step up when the times are toughest, face down the bullies, lift up the downtrodden and never, ever give up — if you do these things, the next generation and the generations that follow will live in a world far better than the one we have today and — what started here will indeed have changed the world —for the better.

Thank you very much. Hook ‘em horns.

Martin Sheen: Find Something Worth Fighting For (2010)

The American actor and activist Martin Sheen delivered this speech at We Day in Vancouver, 2010, to an audience of young people encouraged to take action on local and global issues.

The speech concludes with a poem called Chitto Jetha Bhayashunyo (Where the mind is without fear) written by Rabindranath Tagore before India’s independence which represents Tagore’s dream of how the new India should be. Originally in Bengali, the poem was translated into English by Tagore in 1912. Rabindranath Tagore (1861 – 1941), a Bengali poet, musician, painter, dramatist, thinker, nationalist, and writer, who shaped Bengali literature and music in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He became the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature.

The transcript is from Find Something Worth Fighting For: 2010 We Day Speech by Martin Sheen. The video is from the empoweredmerchants Youtube channel.

Martin Sheen:

You got the message.

I’ve been an actor all of my life. In fact I have no conscious memory of ever not being an actor, but while acting is what I do for a living, activism is what I do to stay alive.

And I am often asked how I manage to unite the two and the answer is quite simple; I don’t have a clue because it was far less a conscious effort than it was a natural progression.

Of course if you grew up in a poor large immigrant family chances are you’re either Irish Catholic or Hispanic and I was lucky enough to be both, so I had a head start when it came to social justice activism.

Both of my parents were immigrants. My father was Francisco Estevez or as they say in Spain, Estévez. He was born in northern Spain on a little village called Vigo on July the second 1897 the very day the United States declared war on Spain.

My mother was Mary-Ann Phelan. She was born May the 22nd, 1903 on a tiny village in the center of the Irish Republic, Borrisokane, in County Tipperary. They immigrated separately of course to the United States, but they met in Dayton, Ohio and were married in 1924. They had 12 pregnancies, 10 survived, 9 boys and one girl, I was their seventh son – my real name is Ramon.

I stayed in Dayton and then I finished high school and I decided to go to New York to pursue a career on the theater. John Kennedy was in the White House and Pope John 23rd was in the Vatican. We held our breath during the Cuban missiles crisis and we were lifted up by Martin Luther King’s dream as civil rights, Vietnam, all came into the national consciousness.

Then suddenly we lost John Kennedy and we still don’t know how or why but it seemed as the worst of the sixties was yet to come. 1968 started with the Tet offense of Vietnam and ended with the return of Richard Nixon. In between, we lost both Martin Luther King Junior and Bobby Kennedy, and we lost them just eight weeks apart.

We backed out of the sixties, still broken but clutching the absolute certainty that lost causes were still the only causes worth fighting for, and that non-violence is the only weapon to use to fight with. “Each time someone stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, they stand for a tiny ripple of hope and, crossing, each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build the current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and injustice.”

Those words were spoken at Cape Town, South Africa, at the university there in 1966 by Robert Francis Kennedy. They are enshrined on his memorial at Arlington National Cemetery as well and they have been a powerful source of inspiration for my generation ever since. The more the world changes, the more it remains the same, I believe, because the three most important needs of every human being on earth are not food, clothing, and shelter as much as the need for freedom, justice, and healing.

It is the gross inequality of food, clothing, and shelter that divides us and the absolute necessity for freedom, justice, and healing that unites us. Clearly we need a more realistic understanding of who we are and why we are here in order to have a honest relationship with each other. Consider the following please, from ‘Earth as a Village’ by Phillips M. Harter, Stanford School of Medicine:

“If we could shrink the earth’s population of over six and a half billion people down to a single village consisting of one hundred people, with all the existing ratios the same, it would look something like this; there would be 57 Asians, 8 Europeans, 21 Africans, and 14 people from the Western hemisphere. There would be 52 women and 48 men. There would be 70 non-whites and 30 whites. There would be 70 non-Christians and 30 Christians.

There would be no doctor, no nurse, no dentist, no hospital or clinic and no school, there would be no safe drinking water, there would be no common language, there would be no electricity and no paved roads, there would be 70 people unable to read or write, there would be 50 people suffering from malnutrition, there would be one person near death and one person near birth. The entire food supply for the village would depend entirely on outside sources. Six people on that village would possess 59% of the entire world’s wealth, and all 6 would be US citizens. There would be one college graduate, one TV, one computer, and the average person on that village would be a 13-year-old Chinese girl.”

Whether we choose to acknowledge it or not we are all responsible for each other and the world which is exactly the way it is because, consciously or unconsciously, we have made it so. And while none of us made the any of the rules that govern the universe, we do make all the rules that govern our own hearts, and we are all beneficiaries of those many heroic strangers who’ve gone before us over the centuries who assure us that the world is still a wonderful and safe place despite our fears, and we’re not asked to do great things – we’re asked to do all things with great care.

Such an ideal is rare in a culture of so many compromised values and so much cynicism, a culture that all too often knows the price of everything and the value of nothing, and yet there remains a very real and mysterious yearning, deep within every human heart, that compels us to reach outside of ourselves and help others for our own sake.

This yearning is a true manifestation of our true selves, and it can lead to the very first small conscious acts of personal courage which can bring rejection from the crowd and satisfaction from the heart. But this yearning can also be very costly as well. If we’re not so we’d be left to question its value, and this, above all; one heart with courage, is a majority.

Over the entire history of the world, every truth started as a blasphemy and no one has ever made a contribution of any real work without self sacrifice, personal sufferings and sometimes, even death.

The Irish tell a story of a man who came to the gates of heaven and asked to be led in, Saint Peter said “Of course! Just show us your scars!” The man says “I have no scars.” Saint Peter says “What a pity! Was there nothing worth fighting for?”

My fondest wish for each and every one of the young people here today is that you will find something in your life worth fighting for, because when you do, you would have discovered a way to unite the will of the spirit to the work of the flesh, and all of humanity would have discovered fire for the second time.

It is my profound wish that the light from that fire will illuminate your path to that place…

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;

Where knowledge is free;

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;

Where words come out from the depth of truth;

Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;

Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action;

Into that heaven of freedom

Let us all awake.

Thank you.

Tim Minchin: Address to University of Western Australia

The British-born Australian comedian, actor and musician Tim Minchin speaks to graduates after being awarded an honorary doctorate at the University of Western Australia.

The transcript can be downloaded from his website, timminchin.com. The video is on the University of Western Australia’s Youtube channel.

Tim Minchin:

In darker days, I did a corporate gig at a conference for this big company who made and sold accounting software. In a bid, I presume, to inspire their salespeople to greater heights, they’d forked out 12 grand for an Inspirational Speaker who was this extreme sports dude who had had a couple of his limbs frozen off when he got stuck on a ledge on some mountain. It was weird. Software salespeople need to hear from someone who has had a long, successful and happy career in software sales, not from an overly-optimistic, ex-mountaineer. Some poor guy who arrived in the morning hoping to learn about better sales technique ended up going home worried about the blood flow to his extremities. It’s not inspirational – it’s confusing.

And if the mountain was meant to be a symbol of life’s challenges, and the loss of limbs a metaphor for sacrifice, the software guy’s not going to get it, is he? Cos he didn’t do an arts degree, did he? He should have. Arts degrees are awesome. And they help you find meaning where there is none. And let me assure you, there is none. Don’t go looking for it. Searching for meaning is like searching for a rhyme scheme in a cookbook: you won’t find it and you’ll bugger up your soufflé.

Point being, I’m not an inspirational speaker. I’ve never lost a limb on a mountainside, metaphorically or otherwise. And I’m certainly not here to give career advice, cos… well I’ve never really had what most would call a proper job.

However, I have had large groups of people listening to what I say for quite a few years now, and it’s given me an inflated sense of self-importance. So I will now – at the ripe old age of 38 – bestow upon you nine life lessons. To echo, of course, the 9 lessons and carols of the traditional Christmas service. Which are also a bit obscure.

You might find some of this stuff inspiring, you will find some of it boring, and you will definitely forget all of it within a week. And be warned, there will be lots of hokey similes, and obscure aphorisms which start well but end up not making sense.

So listen up, or you’ll get lost, like a blind man clapping in a pharmacy trying to echo-locate the contact lens fluid.

Here we go:

1. You Don’t Have To Have A Dream.
Americans on talent shows always talk about their dreams. Fine, if you have something that you’ve always dreamed of, like, in your heart, go for it! After all, it’s something to do with your time… chasing a dream. And if it’s a big enough one, it’ll take you most of your life to achieve, so by the time you get to it and are staring into the abyss of the meaninglessness of your achievement, you’ll be almost dead so it won’t matter.

I never really had one of these big dreams. And so I advocate passionate dedication to the pursuit of short-term goals. Be micro-ambitious. Put your head down and work with pride on whatever is in front of you… you never know where you might end up. Just be aware that the next worthy pursuit will probably appear in your periphery. Which is why you should be careful of long-term dreams. If you focus too far in front of you, you won’t see the shiny thing out the corner of your eye. Right? Good. Advice. Metaphor. Look at me go.

2. Don’t Seek Happiness
Happiness is like an orgasm: if you think about it too much, it goes away. Keep busy and aim to make someone else happy, and you might find you get some as a side effect. We didn’t evolve to be constantly content. Contented Australophithecus Afarensis got eaten before passing on their genes.

3. Remember, It’s All Luck
You are lucky to be here. You were incalculably lucky to be born, and incredibly lucky to be brought up by a nice family that helped you get educated and encouraged you to go to Uni. Or if you were born into a horrible family, that’s unlucky and you have my sympathy… but you were still lucky: lucky that you happened to be made of the sort of DNA that made the sort of brain which – when placed in a horrible childhood environment – would make decisions that meant you ended up, eventually, graduating Uni. Well done you, for dragging yourself up by the shoelaces, but you were lucky. You didn’t create the bit of you that dragged you up. They’re not even your shoelaces.

I suppose I worked hard to achieve whatever dubious achievements I’ve achieved … but I didn’t make the bit of me that works hard, any more than I made the bit of me that ate too many burgers instead of going to lectures while I was here at UWA.

Understanding that you can’t truly take credit for your successes, nor truly blame others for their failures will humble you and make you more compassionate.

Empathy is intuitive, but is also something you can work on, intellectually.

4. Exercise
I’m sorry, you pasty, pale, smoking philosophy grads, arching your eyebrows into a Cartesian curve as you watch the Human Movement mob winding their way through the miniature traffic cones of their existence: you are wrong and they are right. Well, you’re half right – you think, therefore you are… but also: you jog, therefore you sleep well, therefore you’re not overwhelmed by existential angst. You can’t be Kant, and you don’t want to be.

Play a sport, do yoga, pump iron, run… whatever… but take care of your body. You’re going to need it. Most of you mob are going to live to nearly a hundred, and even the poorest of you will achieve a level of wealth that most humans throughout history could not have dreamed of. And this long, luxurious life ahead of you is going to make you depressed!

But don’t despair! There is an inverse correlation between depression and exercise. Do it. Run, my beautiful intellectuals, run. And don’t smoke. Natch.

5. Be Hard On Your Opinions
A famous bon mot asserts that opinions are like arse-holes, in that everyone has one. There is great wisdom in this… but I would add that opinions differ significantly from arse-holes, in that yours should be constantly and thoroughly examined.

We must think critically, and not just about the ideas of others. Be hard on your beliefs. Take them out onto the verandah and beat them with a cricket bat. Be intellectually rigorous. Identify your biases, your prejudices, your privilege.

Most of society’s arguments are kept alive by a failure to acknowledge nuance. We tend to generate false dichotomies, then try to argue one point using two entirely different sets of assumptions, like two tennis players trying to win a match by hitting beautifully executed shots from either end of separate tennis courts.

By the way, while I have science and arts grads in front of me: please don’t make the mistake of thinking the arts and sciences are at odds with one another. That is a recent, stupid, and damaging idea. You don’t have to be unscientific to make beautiful art, to write beautiful things.

If you need proof: Twain, Adams, Vonnegut, McEwen, Sagan, Shakespeare, Dickens. For a start.

You don’t need to be superstitious to be a poet. You don’t need to hate GM technology to care about the beauty of the planet. You don’t have to claim a soul to promote compassion. Science is not a body of knowledge nor a system of belief; it is just a term which describes humankind’s incremental acquisition of understanding through observation. Science is awesome.

The arts and sciences need to work together to improve how knowledge is communicated. The idea that many Australians – including our new PM and my distant cousin Nick – believe that the science of anthropogenic global warming is controversial, is a powerful indicator of the extent of our failure to communicate. The fact that 30% of this room just bristled is further evidence still. The fact that that bristling is more to do with politics than science is even more despairing.

6. Be a teacher.
Please? Please be a teacher. Teachers are the most admirable and important people in the world. You don’t have to do it forever, but if you’re in doubt about what to do, be an amazing teacher. Just for your twenties. Be a primary school teacher. Especially if you’re a bloke – we need male primary school teachers. Even if you’re not a Teacher, be a teacher. Share your ideas. Don’t take for granted your education. Rejoice in what you learn, and spray it.

7. Define Yourself By What You Love
I’ve found myself doing this thing a bit recently, where, if someone asks me what sort of music I like, I say well I don’t listen to the radio because pop lyrics annoy me. Or if someone asks me what food I like, I say I think truffle oil is overused and slightly obnoxious. And I see it all the time online, people whose idea of being part of a subculture is to hate Coldplay or football or feminists or the Liberal Party. We have tendency to define ourselves in opposition to stuff; as a comedian, I make a living out of it. But try to also express your passion for things you love. Be demonstrative and generous in your praise of those you admire. Send thank-you cards and give standing ovations. Be pro-stuff, not just anti-stuff.

8. Respect People With Less Power Than You.
I have, in the past, made important decisions about people I work with – agents and producers – based largely on how they treat wait staff in restaurants. I don’t care if you’re the most powerful cat in the room, I will judge you on how you treat the least powerful. So there.

9. Don’t Rush.
You don’t need to already know what you’re going to do with the rest of your life. I’m not saying sit around smoking cones all day, but also, don’t panic. Most people I know who were sure of their career path at 20 are having midlife crises now.

I said at the beginning of this ramble that life is meaningless. It was not a flippant assertion. I think it’s absurd: the idea of seeking meaning in the set of circumstances that happens to exist after 13.8 billion years worth of unguided events. Leave it to humans to think the universe has a purpose for them. However, I am no nihilist. I am not even a cynic. I am, actually, rather romantic. And here’s my idea of romance:

You will soon be dead. Life will sometimes seem long and tough and, god, it’s tiring. And you will sometimes be happy and sometimes sad. And then you’ll be
old. And then you’ll be dead.

There is only one sensible thing to do with this empty existence, and that is: fill it. Not fillet. Fill. It.

And in my opinion (until I change it), life is best filled by learning as much as you can about as much as you can, taking pride in whatever you’re doing, having compassion, sharing ideas, running(!), being enthusiastic. And then there’s love, and travel, and wine, and sex, and art, and kids, and giving, and mountain climbing … but you know all that stuff already.

It’s an incredibly exciting thing, this one, meaningless life of yours. Good luck.

Thank you for indulging me.

Conan O’Brien: Commencement Address, Dartmouth College, 2011

Conan O’Brien is a US television late night talk show host and comedian. This video is from a commencement address to Dartmouth College in June 2011 (transcript is from their website.

John Zimmer analyses this speech here on his helpful MannerOfSpeaking.org website

Conan O’Brien: : I’ve been living in Los Angeles for two years, and I’ve never been this cold in my life. I will pay anyone here $300 for GORE-TEX gloves. Anybody. I’m serious. I have the cash.

Before I begin, I must point out that behind me sits a highly admired President of the United States and decorated war hero while I, a cable television talk show host, has been chosen to stand here and impart wisdom. I pray I never witness a more damning example of what is wrong with America today.

Graduates, faculty, parents, relatives, undergraduates, and old people that just come to these things: Good morning and congratulations to the Dartmouth Class of 2011. Today, you have achieved something special, something only 92 percent of Americans your age will ever know: a college diploma. That’s right, with your college diploma you now have a crushing advantage over 8 percent of the workforce. I’m talking about dropout losers like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg. Incidentally, speaking of Mr. Zuckerberg, only at Harvard would someone have to invent a massive social network just to talk with someone in the next room.

My first job as your commencement speaker is to illustrate that life is not fair. For example, you have worked tirelessly for four years to earn the diploma you’ll be receiving this weekend.

That was great.

And Dartmouth is giving me the same degree for interviewing the fourth lead in Twilight. Deal with it. Another example that life is not fair: if it does rain, the powerful rich people on stage get the tent. Deal with it.

I would like to thank President Kim for inviting me here today. After my phone call with President Kim, I decided to find out a little bit about the man. He goes by President Kim and Dr. Kim. To his friends, he’s Jim Kim, J to the K, Special K, JK Rowling, the Just Kidding Kimster, and most puzzling, “Stinky Pete.” He served as the chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School, spearheaded a task force for the World Health Organization on Global Health Initiatives, won a MacArthur Genius Grant, and was one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2006. Good God, man, what the hell are you compensating for? Seriously. We get it. You’re smart. By the way Dr. Kim, you were brought to Dartmouth to lead, and as a world-class anthropologist, you were also hired to figure out why each of these graduating students ran around a bonfire 111 times.

But I thank you for inviting me here, Stinky Pete, and it is an honor. Though some of you may see me as a celebrity, you should know that I once sat where you sit. Literally. Late last night I snuck out here and sat in every seat. I did it to prove a point: I am not bright and I have a lot of free time.

But this is a wonderful occasion and it is great to be here in New Hampshire, where I am getting an honorary degree and all the legal fireworks I can fit in the trunk of my car.

You know, New Hampshire is such a special place. When I arrived I took a deep breath of this crisp New England air and thought, “Wow, I’m in the state that’s next to the state where Ben and Jerry’s ice cream is made.”

But don’t get me wrong, I take my task today very seriously. When I got the call two months ago to be your speaker, I decided to prepare with the same intensity many of you have devoted to an important term paper. So late last night, I began. I drank two cans of Red Bull, snorted some Adderall, played a few hours of Call of Duty, and then opened my browser. I think Wikipedia put it best when they said “Dartmouth College is a private Ivy League University in Hanover, New Hampshire, United States.” Thank you and good luck.

To communicate with you students today, I have gone to great lengths to become well-versed in your unique linguistic patterns. In fact, just this morning I left Baker Berry with my tripee Barry to eat a Billy Bob at the Bema when my flitz to Francesca was Blitz jacked by some d-bag on his FSP.

Yes, I’ve done my research. This college was named after the Second Earl of Dartmouth, a good friend of the Third Earl of UC Santa Cruz and the Duke of the Barbizon School of Beauty. Your school motto is “Vox clamantis in deserto,” which means “Voice crying out in the wilderness.” This is easily the most pathetic school motto I have ever heard. Apparently, it narrowly beat out “Silently Weeping in Thick Shrub” and “Whimpering in Moist Leaves without Pants.” Your school color is green, and this color was chosen by Frederick Mather in 1867 because, and this is true—I looked it up—”it was the only color that had not been taken already.” I cannot remember hearing anything so sad. Dartmouth, you have an inferiority complex, and you should not. You have graduated more great fictitious Americans than any other college. Meredith Grey of Grey’s Anatomy. Pete Campbell from Mad Men. Michael Corleone from The Godfather. In fact, I look forward to next years’ Valedictory Address by your esteemed classmate, Count Chocula. Of course, your greatest fictitious graduate is Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. Man, can you imagine if a real Treasury Secretary made those kinds of decisions? Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Now I know what you’re going to say, Dartmouth, you’re going to say, well “We’ve got Dr. Seuss.” Well guess what, we’re all tired of hearing about Dr. Seuss. Face it: The man rhymed fafloozle with saznoozle. In the literary community, that’s called cheating.

Your insecurity is so great, Dartmouth, that you don’t even think you deserve a real podium. I’m sorry. What the hell is this thing? It looks like you stole it from the set of Survivor: Nova Scotia. Seriously, it looks like something a bear would use at an AA meeting.

No, Dartmouth, you must stand tall. Raise your heads high and feel proud.

Because if Harvard, Yale, and Princeton are your self-involved, vain, name-dropping older brothers, you are the cool, sexually confident, lacrosse playing younger sibling who knows how to throw a party and looks good in a down vest. Brown, of course, is your lesbian sister who never leaves her room. And Penn, Columbia, and Cornell—well, frankly, who gives a shit.

Yes, I’ve always had a special bond with this school. In fact, this is my second time coming here. When I was 17 years old and touring colleges, way back in the fall of 1980, I came to Dartmouth. Dartmouth was a very different place back then. I made the trip up from Boston on a mule and, after asking the blacksmith in West Leb for directions, I came to this beautiful campus. No dormitories had been built yet, so I stayed with a family of fur traders in White River Junction. It snowed heavily during my visit and I was trapped here for four months. I was forced to eat the mule, who a week earlier had been forced to eat the fur traders. Still, I loved Dartmouth and I vowed to return.

But fate dealt a heavy blow. With no money, I was forced to enroll in a small, local commuter school, a pulsating sore on a muddy elbow of the Charles River. I was a miserable wretch, and to this day I cannot help but wonder: What if I had gone to Dartmouth?

If I had gone to Dartmouth, I might have spent at least some of my college years outside and today I might not be allergic to all plant life, as well as most types of rock.

If I had gone to Dartmouth, right now I’d be wearing a fleece thong instead of a lace thong.

If I had gone to Dartmouth, I still wouldn’t know the second verse to “Dear Old Dartmouth.” Face it, none of you do. You all mumble that part.

If I had gone to Dartmouth, I’d have a liver the size and consistency of a bean bag chair.

Finally, if I had gone to Dartmouth, today I’d be getting an honorary degree at Harvard. Imagine how awesome that would be.

You are a great school, and you deserve a historic commencement address. That’s right, I want my message today to be forever remembered because it changed the world. To do this, I must suggest groundbreaking policy. Winston Churchill gave his famous “Iron Curtain” speech at Westminster College in 1946. JFK outlined his nuclear disarmament policy at American University in 1963. Today, I would like to set forth my own policy here at Dartmouth: I call it “The Conan Doctrine.” Under “The Conan Doctrine”:

– All bachelor degrees will be upgraded to master’s degrees. All master’s degrees will be upgraded to PhDs. And all MBA students will be immediately transferred to a white collar prison.

– Under “The Conan Doctrine,” Winter Carnival will become Winter Carnivale and be moved to Rio. Clothing will be optional, all expenses paid by the Alumni Association.
– Your nickname, the Big Green, will be changed to something more kick-ass like “The Jade Blade,” the “Seafoam Avenger,” or simply “Lime-Zilla.”

– The D-Plan and “quarter system” will finally be updated to “the one sixty-fourth system.” Semesters will last three days. Students will be encouraged to take 48 semesters off. They must, however, be on campus during their Sophomore 4th of July.

– Under “The Conan Doctrine,” I will re-instate Tubestock. And I will punish those who tried to replace it with Fieldstock. Rafting and beer are a much better combination than a field and a beer. I happen to know that in two years, they were going to downgrade Fieldstock to Deskstock, seven hours of fun sitting quietly at your desk. Don’t let those bastards do it.

And finally, under “The Conan Doctrine,” all commencement speakers who shamelessly pander with cheap, inside references designed to get childish applause, will be forced to apologize—to the greatest graduating class in the history of the world. Dartmouth class of 2011 rules!

Besides policy, another hallmark of great commencement speeches is deep, profound advice like “reach for the stars.” Well today, I am not going to waste your time with empty clichés. Instead, I am going to give you real, practical advice that you will need to know if you are going to survive the next few years.

– First, adult acne lasts longer than you think. I almost cancelled two days ago because I had a zit on my eye.

– Guys, this is important: You cannot iron a shirt while wearing it.

– Here’s another one. If you live on Ramen Noodles for too long, you lose all feelings in your hands and your stool becomes a white gel.

– And finally, wearing colorful Converse high-tops beneath your graduation robe is a great way to tell your classmates that this is just the first of many horrible decisions you plan to make with the rest of your life.

Of course there are many parents here and I have real advice for them as well. Parents, you should write this down:

– Many of your children you haven’t seen them in four years. Well, now you are about to see them every day when they come out of the basement to tell you the wi-fi isn’t working.

– If your child majored in fine arts or philosophy, you have good reason to be worried. The only place where they are now really qualified to get a job is ancient Greece. Good luck with that degree.

– The traffic today on East Wheelock is going to be murder, so once they start handing out diplomas, you should slip out in the middle of the K’s.

And, I have to tell you this:

– You will spend more money framing your child’s diploma than they will earn in the next six months. It’s tough out there, so be patient. The only people hiring right now are Panera Bread and Mexican drug cartels.

Yes, you parents must be patient because it is indeed a grim job market out there. And one of the reasons it’s so tough finding work is that aging baby boomers refuse to leave their jobs. Trust me on this. Even when they promise you for five years that they are going to leave—and say it on television—I mean you can go on YouTube right now and watch the guy do it, there is no guarantee they won’t come back. Of course I’m speaking generally.

But enough. This is not a time for grim prognostications or negativity. No, I came here today because, believe it or not, I actually do have something real to tell you.

Eleven years ago I gave an address to a graduating class at Harvard. I have not spoken at a graduation since because I thought I had nothing left to say. But then 2010 came. And now I’m here, three thousand miles from my home, because I learned a hard but profound lesson last year and I’d like to share it with you. In 2000, I told graduates “Don’t be afraid to fail.” Well now I’m here to tell you that, though you should not fear failure, you should do your very best to avoid it. Nietzsche famously said “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” But what he failed to stress is that it almost kills you. Disappointment stings and, for driven, successful people like yourselves it is disorienting. What Nietzsche should have said is “Whatever doesn’t kill you, makes you watch a lot of Cartoon Network and drink mid-price Chardonnay at 11 in the morning.”

Now, by definition, Commencement speakers at an Ivy League college are considered successful. But a little over a year ago, I experienced a profound and very public disappointment. I did not get what I wanted, and I left a system that had nurtured and helped define me for the better part of 17 years. I went from being in the center of the grid to not only off the grid, but underneath the coffee table that the grid sits on, lost in the shag carpeting that is underneath the coffee table supporting the grid. It was the making of a career disaster, and a terrible analogy.

But then something spectacular happened. Fogbound, with no compass, and adrift, I started trying things. I grew a strange, cinnamon beard. I dove into the world of social media. I started tweeting my comedy. I threw together a national tour. I played the guitar. I did stand-up, wore a skin-tight blue leather suit, recorded an album, made a documentary, and frightened my friends and family. Ultimately, I abandoned all preconceived perceptions of my career path and stature and took a job on basic cable with a network most famous for showing reruns, along with sitcoms created by a tall, black man who dresses like an old, black woman. I did a lot of silly, unconventional, spontaneous and seemingly irrational things and guess what: with the exception of the blue leather suit, it was the most satisfying and fascinating year of my professional life. To this day I still don’t understand exactly what happened, but I have never had more fun, been more challenged—and this is important—had more conviction about what I was doing.

How could this be true? Well, it’s simple: There are few things more liberating in this life than having your worst fear realized. I went to college with many people who prided themselves on knowing exactly who they were and exactly where they were going. At Harvard, five different guys in my class told me that they would one day be President of the United States. Four of them were later killed in motel shoot-outs. The other one briefly hosted Blues Clues, before dying senselessly in yet another motel shoot-out. Your path at 22 will not necessarily be your path at 32 or 42. One’s dream is constantly evolving, rising and falling, changing course. This happens in every job, but because I have worked in comedy for twenty-five years, I can probably speak best about my own profession.

Way back in the 1940s there was a very, very funny man named Jack Benny. He was a giant star, easily one of the greatest comedians of his generation. And a much younger man named Johnny Carson wanted very much to be Jack Benny. In some ways he was, but in many ways he wasn’t. He emulated Jack Benny, but his own quirks and mannerisms, along with a changing medium, pulled him in a different direction. And yet his failure to completely become his hero made him the funniest person of his generation. David Letterman wanted to be Johnny Carson, and was not, and as a result my generation of comedians wanted to be David Letterman. And none of us are. My peers and I have all missed that mark in a thousand different ways. But the point is this : It is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique. It’s not easy, but if you accept your misfortune and handle it right, your perceived failure can become a catalyst for profound re-invention.

So, at the age of 47, after 25 years of obsessively pursuing my dream, that dream changed. For decades, in show business, the ultimate goal of every comedian was to host The Tonight Show. It was the Holy Grail, and like many people I thought that achieving that goal would define me as successful. But that is not true. No specific job or career goal defines me, and it should not define you. In 2000—in 2000—I told graduates to not be afraid to fail, and I still believe that. But today I tell you that whether you fear it or not, disappointment will come. The beauty is that through disappointment you can gain clarity, and with clarity comes conviction and true originality.

Many of you here today are getting your diploma at this Ivy League school because you have committed yourself to a dream and worked hard to achieve it. And there is no greater cliché in a commencement address than “follow your dream.” Well I am here to tell you that whatever you think your dream is now, it will probably change. And that’s okay. Four years ago, many of you had a specific vision of what your college experience was going to be and who you were going to become. And I bet, today, most of you would admit that your time here was very different from what you imagined. Your roommates changed, your major changed, for some of you your sexual orientation changed. I bet some of you have changed your sexual orientation since I began this speech. I know I have. But through the good and especially the bad, the person you are now is someone you could never have conjured in the fall of 2007.

I have told you many things today, most of it foolish but some of it true. I’d like to end my address by breaking a taboo and quoting myself from 17 months ago. At the end of my final program with NBC, just before signing off, I said “Work hard, be kind, and amazing things will happen.” Today, receiving this honor and speaking to the Dartmouth Class of 2011 from behind a tree-trunk, I have never believed that more.

Thank you very much, and congratulations.

Larry Page: University of Michigan Commencement Address, 2009

Larry Page’s University of Michigan Commencement Address, May 2009. Larry Page is one of the co-founders of Google

The transcript is from the google press website

Larry Page: Class of 2009! I don’t think I heard you! Class of 2009! First I’d like you to get up, wave and cheer your supportive family and friends! Show your love!

It is a great honor for me to be here today.

Now wait a second. I know: that’s such a cliché. You’re thinking: every graduation speaker says that – It’s a great honor. But, in my case, it really is so deeply true – being here is more special and more personal for me than most of you know. I’d like to tell you why.

A long time ago, in the cold September of 1962, there was a Steven’s co-op at this very university. That co-op had a kitchen with a ceiling that had been cleaned by student volunteers every decade or so. Picture a college girl named Gloria, climbing up high on a ladder, struggling to clean that filthy ceiling. Standing on the floor, a young boarder named Carl was admiring the view. And that’s how they met. They were my parents, so I suppose you could say I’m a direct result of that kitchen chemistry experiment, right here at Michigan. My Mom is here with us today, and we should probably go find the spot and put a plaque up on the ceiling that says: “Thanks Mom and Dad!”

Everyone in my family went to school here at Michigan: me, my brother, my Mom and Dad – all of us. My Dad actually got the quantity discount: all three and a half of his degrees are from here. His Ph.D. was in Communication Science because they thought Computers were just a passing fad. He earned it 44 years ago. He and Mom made a big sacrifice for that degree. They argued at times over pennies, while raising my newborn brother. Mom typed my Dad’s dissertation by hand, kind of ironic in a computer science dissertation. This velvet hood I’m wearing, this was my Dad’s. And this diploma that I have here, just like the one you’re are about to get, this was my Dad’s. And my underwear, … oh never mind, sorry.

My father’s father worked in the Chevy plant in Flint, Michigan. He was an assembly line worker. He drove his two children here to Ann Arbor, and told them: That is where you’re going to college. Both his kids actually did graduate from Michigan. That was the American dream. His daughter, Beverly, is also with us today. My Grandpa used to carry an “Alley Oop” hammer – a heavy iron pipe with a hunk of lead melted on the end. The workers made them during the sit-down strikes to protect themselves. When I was growing up, we used that hammer whenever we needed to pound a stake or something into the yard. It is wonderful that most people don’t need to carry a heavy blunt object for protection anymore. But just in case, I have it here.

My Dad became a professor at uh… Michigan State, and I was an incredibly lucky boy. A professor’s life is pretty flexible, and he was able to spend oodles of time raising me. Could there be any better upbringing than a university brat?

What I’m trying to tell you is that this is WAY more than just a homecoming for me. It’s not easy for me to express how proud I am to be here, with my Mom, my brother and my wife Lucy, and with all of you, at this amazing institution that is responsible for my very existence. I am thrilled for all of you, and I’m thrilled for your families and friends, as all of us join this great, big Michigan family I feel I’ve been a part of all of my life.

What I’m also trying to tell you is that I know exactly what it feels like to be sitting in your seat, listening to some old gasbag give a long-winded commencement speech. Don’t worry. I’ll be brief.

I have a story about following dreams. Or maybe more accurately, it’s a story about finding a path to make those dreams real.

You know what it’s like to wake up in the middle of the night with a vivid dream? And you know how, if you don’t have a pencil and pad by the bed to write it down, it will be completely gone the next morning?

Well, I had one of those dreams when I was 23. When I suddenly woke up, I was thinking: what if we could download the whole web, and just keep the links and… I grabbed a pen and started writing! Sometimes it is important to wake up and stop dreaming. I spent the middle of that night scribbling out the details and convincing myself it would work. Soon after, I told my advisor, Terry Winograd, it would take a couple of weeks to download the web – he nodded knowingly, fully aware it would take much longer but wise enough to not tell me. The optimism of youth is often underrated! Amazingly, I had no thought of building a search engine. The idea wasn’t even on the radar. But, much later we happened upon a better way of ranking and we made a really great search engine, and Google was born. When a really great dream shows up, grab it!

When I was here at Michigan, I had actually been taught how to make dreams real! I know it sounds funny, but that is what I learned in a summer camp converted into a training program called Leadershape. Yeah, we got a few out there. Their slogan is to have a “healthy disregard for the impossible”. That program encouraged me to pursue a crazy idea at the time: I wanted to build a personal rapid transit system on campus to replace the buses. Yeah, you’re still working on that, I hear. It was a futuristic way of solving our transportation problem. I still think a lot about transportation – you never loose a dream, it just incubates as a hobby. Many things that people labor hard to do now, like cooking, cleaning, and driving will require much less human time in the future. That is, if we “have a healthy disregard for the impossible” and actually build the solutions.

I think it is often easier to make progress on mega-ambitious dreams. I know that sounds completely nuts. But, since no one else is crazy enough to do it, you have little competition. In fact, there are so few people this crazy that I feel like I know them all by first name. They all travel as if they are pack dogs and they stick to each other like glue. The best people want to work on the big challenges. That is what happened with Google. Our mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. How can that not get you excited? But we almost didn’t start Google because my co-founder Sergey and I were too worried about dropping out of the Ph.D. program. None of you had that issue, it seems. You are probably on the right track if you feel like a sidewalk worm during a rainstorm! That is about how we felt after we maxed out three credit cards buying hard disks off the back of a truck. That was actually the first hardware for Google. Parents and friends: more credit cards always help. What is the one sentence summary of how you change the world? Always work hard on something uncomfortably exciting!

As a Ph.D. student, I actually had three projects I wanted to work on. Thank goodness my advisor said, “Why don’t you work on the web for a while”. He gave me some seriously good advice because the web was growing with people and activity, even in 1995! Technology and especially the internet can really help you be lazy. Lazy? What I mean is a group of three people can write software that millions can use and enjoy. Can three people answer the phone a million times a day? Find the leverage in the world, so you can be truly lazy!

Yeah…

Overall, I know it seems like the world is crumbling out there, but it is actually a great time in your life to get a little crazy, follow your curiosity, and be ambitious about it. Don’t give up on your dreams. The world needs you all!

So here’s my final story:

On a day like today, you might feel exhilarated — like you’ve just been shot out of a cannon at the circus – and even invincible. Don’t ever forget that incredible feeling. But also: always remember that the moments we have with friends and family, the chances we have to do things that might make a big difference in the world, or even to make a small difference to the ones we love — all those wonderful chances that life gives us, life also takes away. It can happen fast, and a whole lot sooner than you think.

In late March 1996, soon after I had moved to Stanford for grad school, my Dad had difficulty breathing and drove to the hospital. Two months later, he died. I was completely devastated. Many years later, after a startup, after falling in love, and after so many of life’s adventures, I found myself thinking about my Dad. Lucy and I were far away in a steaming hot village walking through narrow streets. There were wonderfully friendly people everywhere, but it was a desperately poor place – people used the bathroom inside and it flowed out into the open gutter and straight into the river. We touched a boy with a limp leg, the result of paralysis from polio. Lucy and I were in rural India – one of the few places where polio still exists. Polio is transmitted fecal to oral, usually through filthy water. Well, my Dad had polio. He went on a trip to Tennessee in the first grade and caught it. He was hospitalized for two months and had to be transported by military DC-3 back home – his first flight. My Dad wrote, “Then, I had to stay in bed for over a year, before I started back to school”. That is actually a quote from his fifth grade autobiography. My Dad had difficulty breathing his whole life, and the complications of polio are what took him from us too soon. He would have been very upset that polio still persists even though we have a vaccine. He would have been equally upset that back in India we had polio virus on our shoes from walking through the contaminated gutters that spread the disease. We were spreading the virus with every footstep, right under beautiful kids playing everywhere. The world is on the verge of eliminating polio, with 328 people infected so far this year. Let’s get it eradicated soon. Perhaps one of you will do that.

My Dad was valedictorian of Flint Mandeville High School in 1956 class of about 90 kids. I happened across his graduating speech recently, and it blew me away. 53 years ago my Dad said: “…we are entering a changing world, one of automation and employment change where education is an economic necessity. We will have increased periods of time to do as we wish, as our work week and retirement age continue to decline [and we wish that were true]. … We shall take part in, or witness, developments in science, medicine, and industry that we can not dream of today. … It is said that the future of any nation can be determined by the care and preparation given to its youth. If all the youths of America were as fortunate in securing an education as we have been, then the future of the United States would be even more bright than it is today.”

If my Dad was alive today, the thing I think he would be most happy about is that Lucy and I have a baby in the hopper. It’s here.. I think he would have been annoyed that I hadn’t gotten my Ph.D. yet (thanks, Michigan!). Dad was so full of insights, of excitement about new things, that to this day, I often wonder what he would think about some new development. If he were here today – well, it would be one of the best days of his life. He’d be like a kid in a candy store. For a day, he’d be young again.

Many of us are fortunate enough to be here with family. Some of us have dear friends and family to go home to. And who knows, perhaps some of you, like Lucy and I, are dreaming about future families of your own. Just like me, your families brought you here, and you brought them here. Please keep them close and remember: they are what really matters in life.

Thanks, Mom; Thanks, Lucy.
And thank you, all, very much.