Thursday, June 21, 2007

Commencement speeches

Until very recently my favorite commencement speech was Steve Jobs's speech at Stanford. In this speech he tells three stories from his life. They are all great stories, but I found the first one most compelling. In it he talks about how he dropped out of college and happened to attend some calligraphy classes:

If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.

Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

I love this sentiment: focus on doing what you love to do; the rest will take care of itself.

Any way, earlier this week my favorite commencement speech switched to being Bill Gates's speech at Harvard. I have long admired Bill Gates for the fine work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. And his commencement speech lived up to this fine work. It starts by saying:

I left Harvard with no real awareness of the awful inequities in the world.

But decades later when he finally learnt about the seriousness of the problem, he was faced with the same challenge that we are all faced with, albeit on a significantly larger scale:

For Melinda and for me, the challenge is the same: how can we do the most good for the greatest number with the resources we have.

He goes on to describe the work that the Foundation has been focusing on before issuing a compelling call to arms to the members of the Harvard community to step up to their responsibilities to the world:

My mother was very ill with cancer at the time, but she saw one more opportunity to deliver her message, and at the close of the letter she said: “From those to whom much is given, much is expected.”

When you consider what those of us here in this Yard have been given – in talent, privilege, and opportunity – there is almost no limit to what the world has a right to expect from us.

What a wonderful sentiment. We are all so privileged. Are we doing enough with our gift?

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