Google’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt delivered his commencement address at 2012 Boston University Commencement ceremony on May 20, 2012. Here is the full transcript.
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Introducing speaker: I now call upon Eric Schmidt to deliver the 139th Commencement address of Boston University.
Eric Schmidt – Executive Chairman, Google
Thank you. Well thank you all. It’s great to be here, and it’s an honor to have been invited. It’s an honor to look out on the next generation of BU Terriers. Now let me 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, now let me to explain. You used to have a professor here — a decent writer by the name of Saul Bellow. And this comes from his novel “Henderson and the Rain King.” And 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. Live it to the full.
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, in my view, sums up what a fantastic university like BU tries to inculcate in every one of you who sets foot on this beautiful campus. And you just look at that. And scientists, engineers, writers, business pioneers, governors, Olympic gold medalists, Oscar winners, cabinet secretaries, they all walked across this stage and left their mark on the culture, on society, and on the world.
And, my God, even Martin Luther King is Doctor King because of the PhD that he got here. Pretty amazing. And now you follow. You right, 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 watching — saying to yourself — she knows who she is — “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 what I know, is I know one thing for certain: No graduating class gets to choose the world they graduate into — just as you can’t choose your siblings and your parents. Welcome to them too of course.
Now 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 make history and to 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 these 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 been older generations, standing up on high, trying to teach the next generation the ways of the world — you know how it goes — trying to make sure they follow in their footsteps.
Well, graduates, I think it’s different today. You are teaching us. Interesting. This generation — your generation — is the first fully connected generation the world has ever known.
What’s the first thing that you guys do when you wake up? Right? Check your phone? Your laptop? Read some email, comb through your social networks? “I’m awake! Here I am!” If you’re awake, you’re online. You’re connected. Some of you are probably texting right now or tweeting this speech. Changing your status, smiling. “Here we are, smile, you’re on camera.”
There’s this joke, by the way, about the college kid getting mugged, who says, “Hold on, hold on, I need to update my status, telling my friends that now I’m getting mugged, then I’ll give you my phone.”
Now obviously — well, it actually did happen, but this is a stark depiction of how just 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 — they make up so much of what we are, who we are now. They shape the things the way they are today, they define the human condition.
Identity and connection — it is your task to take these timeworn concepts, spin them around, reinvigorate them, make them fresh and new and exciting. And you can do this.
Now BU has built the platform that you can do this on. I know it’s daunting. It’s not a great economy to be walking off this stage into. I know all of this. But you have an advantage, you have a competitive edge. You have an innate mastery of technology, an ability to find, build and foster connections that no generation before you has ever possessed. It’s a very, very powerful skill that you taught yourself.
People bemoan this generation that is growing up living life in front of screens, always connected to something or someone. These people are wrong. They are absolutely 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 that you carry.
Today, there are 54 wars and conflicts going around. It’s terrible. 1.5 billion people live on less than $1 a day, and hundreds of millions of children go to bed hungry tonight. It’s terrible. Nearly half the world’s people don’t live under democratic governments — the rights that we all enjoy are a rarity, they’re not the norm.
And when it comes to the Internet, we think everyone else is online because all of us are online all now. But only 1 billion people have smartphones, and only 2 billion people are connected to the web. For most of the world, the internet cafes and all that kind of stuff that we take for granted are far-off digital oases in technology wastelands. They don’t have access to it.
But in this century – your century, not mine — there is a chance for change on the horizon. The spread of mobile phones, the new forms of connectivity, offer the prospect of connecting everybody. And when that happens, connectivity will revolutionize every aspect of society — politically, socially, economically. To connect the world is to free the world, I say.