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Home » Transcript: Google’s Eric Schmidt at 2012 Boston University Commencement Speech

Transcript: Google’s Eric Schmidt at 2012 Boston University Commencement Speech

Eric Schmidt

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.

Listen to the MP3 Audio here: Google’s Eric Schmidt at 2012 Boston University Commencement Speech


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.

And 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 it as only a flicker. You have that power, right in your pockets or your pocketbooks, right now.

And here’s the deal: Yes, I know — we all have this knowledge literally at our fingertips. But, now just as we know 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 somewhere. There’s no algorithm or formula that says something will do X or Y will be sure to occur. Technology doesn’t work on its own. It’s a tool. You are the ones who harness that 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, but everybody else.

Entrepreneurship is the lifeblood of a new economy. It’s 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 to create a small business, or be part of one and, of course, I would recommend that you use all the products that Google has to offer to set it up. End of that.

Now 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 although, that’s obviously good. You don’t need to be an engineer, I obviously like that, right, we love this. Everyone — all of you — can make your mark by creating new standards of brilliance and innovation. And, those standards can spread. They can scale. They can scale in ways that are 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 – the distinctive feature is that you can be unique while being completely connected. It’s never been possible before. I think this is the 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. I certainly didn’t. These computers, they have speed. They have memory. They have intricately complicated wiring and unfathomably complex circuitry.

But there’s one thing that they don’t have: They don’t have a heart. All of these connections that you forge, all the things that I’m talking about — the digital ties that bind our humanity together are 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 obviously believe fully in the power of technology to change the world for the better. Obviously. 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 — and I want you to remember this — the one thing you have to remember from my talk: I want you to take one hour a day and turn that thing off. I know it’s going to be hard. I know it’s going to be hard. I want you to take one hour – just one hour – you do the math, it’s 1/24th. Turn it down. Shut it off. Shut it down. Learn where the OFF button is. Take your eyes off that screen, and look into the eyes of the person that you love. Have a conversation — a real conversation — with the friends who make you think, with the family who make you laugh.

Don’t push a button saying I “Like” something. Actually tell them. What a concept! Engage in the world around you, and 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 actually count on.

So 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.

Now it’s okay after that hour to turn it back on. 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, and talented group of BU Terriers.

Here you have come to know extraordinary people. Look around, take a minute. A few years ago you started off on the road here with these people, knowing them as boys and girls, running around campus, dazed and overwhelmed. Now you are 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 that you forged when the times were good, and when the ones they were bad — and when you realized you overslept your lecture and needed someone’s notes to catch up with, and all the other stuff that goes on in college — those are the friendships that will matter for your whole 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 certainly for me.

When you leave here, don’t leave them behind. Don’t leave BU behind. Don’t leave them behind. Stay close and stay strong. Take them with you wherever you go, and, together, connected, go and change the world with all the things we’ve talked about.

At times it may have seemed like the road ahead was an impossible slog. But today, I have the distinct honor of telling you: you have made it. You only have another half-hour to go! It’s incredible.

Now that you’re here, I want you do to another thing: I ask each of you – I want you to 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, and 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 children. And even if it 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 other people’s as well.

“Yes” lets you stand out in a crowd, to be an optimist, to stay positive, to be the one that 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 very big things. And say it often.

Second thing I want you to do: Do not be afraid to fail, but also do not be afraid to succeed. There’s an old Italian phrase that 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, you need to do this. Be brave. Work without a net. I promise you, you will land on your feet.

For those who say that you’re thinking too big, be smart enough not to listen. For those who say that the odds are too small, be dumb enough to give it a shot.

And for those who ask, how could I do that?, look them straight in the eyes and say, “I will figure it out.”

But above all, be an “adorer of life.” I don’t think any further explanation is necessary.

I, to be very clear, am very happy to have you join us as adults, and the quicker we have you lead, the better. Time to throw out all of us aging baby boomers and replace it by those best-equipped to lead us into a new age — you. March us to a better day.

The power and the possibility, the intellectual energy and the human electricity seated in this stadium, which I see in front of me and this is happening in other stadiums around this weekend and next weekend, this 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 shape a new dawn. You will give our future a heartbeat. And that beat will be stronger, because of you, because of the things you learn, and the things that you care about and the values, and the things that you’re going to do.

From my perspective looking at this class, I say that you have the potential to reach higher than any class before you, than any generation that ever came before you. You can reach as high as the face of life itself.

I want to thank you all for listening to me, and my sincere congratulations to every single one of you, and your families. It’s a great day.

Thank you so much.


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