Salman Khan’s 2012 Commencement Address at MIT (Full Transcript)

Below is the full transcript of the commencement address delivered by Salman Khan, the founder of Khan Academy at MIT’s Commencement on June 8, 2012.

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Announcer: It’s now my honor to introduce our Commencement Day speaker, the founder of the online education phenomenon known as the Khan Academy, Sal Khan.

Sal earned three degrees from MIT, a Bachelor’s in Mathematics, as well as a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science rounding out his education with a MBA from Harvard. Sal began his career as a hedge fund analyst. Within a few years, however, he discovered quite by accident what has become his calling. Through preparing video tutorials to help his young cousin learn math, he came to understand both his own gifts as a teacher and a great gift that he could give to the world by creating an online library of 1000s of free bite-size videos that would shed light on any topic he chose, from geometry to the GDP.

Today, the Khan Academy Channel on YouTube has more than 330,000 subscribers and has delivered more than 156,000,000 lessons and has for millions of students, replaced bafflement with understanding. For launching this revolutionary experiment in online learning, in the year 2012 Time Magazine named Sal Khan as one of the 100 most influential people on the planet. This is not the first time that Sal has spoken from the commencement stage here in Killian Court, because he also served as President of his class.

In 1998, addressing his fellow graduates, Sal said, and I quote, “It is no exaggeration to say that we will change the world.”

And having checked this assignment off his to-do list, he joins us here today. Ladies and gentleman, Sal Khan.

Sal Khan – Founder of Khan Academy

Now this is a surreal, a deep honor to be here for a whole set of reasons and as was introduced, obviously MIT has played a big role in my own life. But I think a much deeper role than many of you all might appreciate. Some of you might remember in the late nineties, kind of when the first Internet boom was happening, there was a lot of talk about online education and most of the conversation back then about online education, not too different than now, was around how to profit off it, how to make money off it.

Or some institutions were thinking about how to defend against it, or at least sit on the sidelines and see how everything played out. And all of a sudden MIT jumped into the mix in 2001, and announced MIT OpenCourseWare. That it was going to take knowledge and resources that used to be behind the walls of elite institutions and not charge for them but give them away for free to the world. And instead of saying how can we profit off of this, MIT said, “Well there are some things that are higher than that.”

That if we could empower an unlimited number of people for all of time maybe, that’s something that we would be willing to spend resources on. And when that happened I was just a couple years out of college working at a tech company in San Francisco. I had no idea that my own career adventure would lead to what I am doing now. But when I read that press release, I had never been so inspired. I had never felt so proud to come from this community.

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And frankly a couple of years later, when the videos that I had made for my cousins and it became clear that people who were not my cousins started watching. There was talk of, oh well this could be a business. I was in Silicon Valley, this is what it was all about. I worked for a hedge fund, a very for profit organization. But it was the memory of how I felt the first time I read that press release about OpenCourseWare and what OpenCourseWare had become, that really gave me the clarity to understand what Khan Academy could be. That it could be this institution that could reach everyone and that should transcend ideas of profits and businesses.

And I say this not just to show the connection this had for Khan Academy, but there is a meta level idea here that these days you hear a lot of universities and institutions talk about teaching ethics, teaching morality, and instilling that in classes and they tell you to read about it, but MIT actually did it. MIT actually lived by its actions. It actually put principle over profit and it is continuing to do it.

Now with MITx now with EdX in concert with Harvard it is continuing to push the envelope. And I am just in awe, it feels like we are living in a science fiction book of what might happen in education in the next few years.

But my connections to MIT go even deeper than that. Obviously I went here, but my wife also graduated from MIT class of 2001. The president of Khan Academy and chief operating officer, he was my roommate freshman year at Next House. Room 343 for the two or three of you who might have shared that room at some point.

One of our board members went to MIT and his wife went to MIT. I am just starting. That is just a small sample of all of the people we know at MIT. But maybe even more surprisingly the fact that of the people we know from MIT now 90% of them are married to each other and any time you have this type of love come from one place I think one should introspect as romantic as the infinite corridor may be. And I have seen such extreme coupling here that I have often suspected that this whole place might just be a front for some type of DARPA funded breeding project. Someone knows what is going on up here.

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But there are simpler explanations, and I think the most obvious one or at least the most clear to me is that the admissions office here at both the undergraduate and graduate level seems to have a somewhat unhealthy bias for only admitting extremely attractive people. You’re welcome. I thought that would go over well.

I think it goes even deeper than that. As long as I can remember, to any one who would listen to me, I have told people that MIT is the closest thing on this planet Earth to Hogwarts, to Harry Potter’s wizarding school. That the ideas and the research and the science that percolates behind these walls, that’s the closest thing to magic in the real world, and frankly to people outside of this campus looks like magic. The faculty we have here, these are the leading wizards of our time! The Dumbledore’s and Mcgonagall’s and I guess president Hawkfield you would be a Mcgonagall.

The halls here they have secret passages and tunnels and around every corner there are strange and bizarre magical objects and creatures, some of whom may finish their thesis this decade. Maybe a few in the audience.

When we’re in Killian Court, it is almost a shrine. When you look at the names around us, you see Newton and Darwin and Galileo and Archimedes and these are the great wizards of history. And they remind us that we have inherited an ancient tradition, an ancient art, one that for much of history and even now today to some degree has always been sometimes vilified or suppressed by forces of ignorance, but despite that, has always shone through and has been at least in my mind the prime cause of human advancement.

The people who come here, the students who come here, you! There are these young people from all over the world from every walk of life, who are all off the charts in some special way for this kind of magic that goes on here. Some come from affluent rich educated families. Some of you come from poor families where you are the first to get a college degree. Some come from environments where their gifts were really celebrated. Some come from environments where frankly most of their lives they have had to hide their passions, their gifts for fear of looking different.

But they come here suspecting that this might be a place where they can spread their wings, where they can explore the world. They can finally look with clarity at the mysteries of the universe, the magic of everything that surrounds us, and MIT I think delivers on that. It opens our minds to what is possible and even more uniquely it pushes us, and I do believe that MIT pushes us harder than probably any other institution in the world.