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Over the years, several tech pioneers have given commencement speeches, but not all are memorable. Recently, NVIDIA’s founder and chief operating officer Jensen Huang addressed the graduating students at National Taiwan University in Taipei, imploring them to “Run, don’t walk”, seize opportunities fearlessly, but also be ready to embrace the inevitable failures along the way.
Looking back, we have found some interesting yet meaningful commencement speeches of all time that have shaped lives.
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“We can make market forces work better for the poor if we can develop a more creative capitalism.”
Bill Gates did not complete his bachelor’s degree. The Harward dropout left college to build Microsoft, which is now a leading tech giant. However, during his 2007 commencement speech at Harvard, Gates candidly admits that when leaving college, he was unaware of the extent of global inequities, but later became aware of them and took action. Gates emphasised the importance of addressing these inequities and advocated the concept of “creative capitalism”, which involves utilising market forces to benefit those in poverty, leading to the creation of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The billionaire believes that the modern age, with its advancements in technology and innovation, presents unparalleled opportunities to combat poverty and preventable diseases. Gates encourages graduates to collaborate, harness their intellect and talents, and actively engage in solving global challenges. He called on Harvard graduates to dedicate their resources and intellectual prowess to improving the lives of the underprivileged. Gates urged the graduates to apply their education towards innovative solutions that address and rectify social and economic disparities.
“Be impatient. It will create the progress the world needs.”
At YouTube’s “Dear Class of 2020” virtual graduation ceremony event for graduates whose ceremonies were cancelled due to COVID-19, Google chief Sundar Pichai, gave an encouraging speech to the students to maintain a positive outlook and use their education for the betterment of the world.
Drawing inspiration from past generations who overcame similar challenges, he urged the graduates to remain open to new ideas and identify their passions without thinking about what society will say. Additionally, he encouraged them to fearlessly embrace impatience and actively strive for transformative progress.
“It’s not enough to be technologists — we have to make sure that technology serves people.”
At MIT’s 2018 graduation, Sheryl Sandberg, the former COO of Meta encouraged students to embrace uncertainty and be open to new possibilities, highlighting that life’s challenges and opportunities are rooted in humanity, not just technology.
As technologists, it is their responsibility to ensure their tech advancements serve people and uphold the right values, emphasising the importance of diversity in shaping unbiased technology. She urged the graduates to use their skills to make a positive impact, addressing inequality, promoting ethics, and fostering respectful workplaces. The graduates were reminded of their ability to shape a better future by embracing challenges, being accountable, and building technology that serves humanity.
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“Purpose is that sense that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, that we are needed, that we have something better ahead to work for. Purpose is what creates true happiness.”
Mark Zuckerberg, another successful Harvard dropout, addressed the graduating students on the importance of entrepreneurship, big ideas, equal economic opportunities and having the freedom to fail.
The Meta chief and cofounder highlighted the need to create a society that allows everyone to pursue their ideas and goals. He also addressed issues such as student loans and immigration, a topic close to his heart. Zuckerberg’s speech threw light on the overarching theme of “purpose” and the importance of creating a more inclusive and meaningful world for others, urging students to actively contribute to helping others discover their own purpose in life.
“Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish”
In no way can we curate the finest speeches of all time without mentioning Steve Jobs. Jobs’ 2005 speech at Stanford University stands out to date with more than 42 million views on YouTube, making it the most-watched graduation speech ever.
The Apple co-founder shared important stories from his life that marked turning points in his professional life. He dropped out of college but took a calligraphy class that later influenced the design of the Macintosh computer. He then co-founded Apple with Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne, got fired, but rediscovered his passion and founded NeXT and Pixar. Eventually, Apple acquired NeXT, leading to his return and the company’s success.
Finally, he spoke about death. He shared how after being diagnosed with a rare form of pancreatic cancer and being told that had a short time to live, he learned to value each day and make meaningful choices. He spoke about the brevity of life, urging graduates to pursue their passions, and not to be influenced by others’ opinions. He encouraged them to trust their intuition, stay hungry for knowledge, and remain foolish in taking risks.
Although Jobs passed away in 2011, his speech continues to inspire countless individuals to this day.
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