This is for a group of 8th graders that I’ve worked with a bit on their senior project: the Elephant Hooks pardon typos, etc this is just cut and pasted from my notes
Every generation looks to the next as the future,
over the coming years and decades you will leave the nest and we will hand the reins of power and influence for every facet of our society, from government to commerce, science, technology and the arts. Of course, this is not unique to us, its been going on from time immemorial
But I will tell you that this generational change is no ordinary one. Hiistory does not move in a smooth arc, it moves in long flat spots and bumps: the pre-historic great leap forward, the invention of agriculture, the industrial revolution. In all the eras, society jumped forward. I realized in putting this together that it was 73 years ago that my father sat in your seat, graduating Nettlehorst. It was June of 1940, Churchill had just become prime minister, and the Nazis were driving the last of the English and French forces into the Sea. things didn’t look too good for the free world at that moment. But those young kids rose to the occasion and now we call them “The greatest generation” they made the world we live in today
But no generation ever before, including theirs, has experienced a technological change so abrupt that the world between generations changed so dramatically. your parents were born to world where we our inventions, art, philosophies required the permission of gatekeepers. There was someone who decided when, where, how, to whom and even if at all our ideas made it to the broader world. They may have been radio station owners, newspaper editors, factory or department store owners, but they were there.
In history’s blink of an eye, you were born to a world where your inventions, art, philosophies can be transmitted around the world instantly and in your own voice. Power not held by world leaders a generation ago is now yours
These are only the tools you will use to forge a new world… for youself and future generations, the possibilities for that world are unimaginable
Here I am, speaking to you 43, who seem to me to be almost anointed by fate to have a special role in this generation.Beyond just a good education, you have been immersed the process of actually “doing” With programs like do the write thing, to your documentaries and science fairs, and now as you pioneer the Dig8 program where You have created an invention and sold it around the world. From the deserts of Israel to California’s bay, from Alabama to the plains of Australia, and now in 7 short days you have paid for tooling and this product will make it to production (with 3 weeks left to spare)!
are you amazed? Don’t be, this is only the beginning, these are the tools you will grow up with, and this is your destiny. So when I was asked to speak to you, I JUMPED at the chance. Thank you, for giving me the honor of speaking with you for a few moments.
So what’s next for you all? Well, I have no idea. In fact, truth be known, really no one does, no one can predict the future. At a recent commencement address at U of M Dick Costello, the CEO of Twitter told a story about how they didn’t know how important a tool Twitter would become— Now if the CEO of Twitter can’t predict the future of the very tool they created just a few years hence, its seems very clear that no one can predict what the world will look like some ten twenty years from now.
So, I’ve told you I believe you have an extraordinary destiny, but yet I have no idea what it is. That may sound ridiculous or horribly frightening or both. But its true, all I know is that your generation has been given new tools of unprecedented power, and that your school and community has come together to show you their possibilities, I don’t know what you’ll do with them. That’s for you to figure out.
If that sounds horribly frightening, let me provide some comfort. You have read Robert Frost about taking the road less traveled, but those woods have largely been cleared. The world you are entering looks much more like an open field than two paths diverging in the forest. You don’t need to get to the end of a deep trail to find opportunities, today they surround us. For example, Dick Costello the CEO of twitter who I just mentioned, he started his his career in Improv comedy. Peter Thiel started Paypal only after failing to get a clerkship after graduating stanford and stanford law school. Of course, you know about all the college dropouts: Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates dropping out. This is not the old days, where you got into a good university and a good corporation and just sailed along. the world is much more freeform. This is not to say that we are drifting free or powerless, not at all, that freedom is a big part of the reason we are more powerful than ever.
While I can’t predict any of the details better than anyone else, I do have four pieces of advice, some of these are old fashioned, but I think they will serve you well in this new world
1. Don’t set your mind, certainly not yet, used to be they said you can do anything you set your mind to, but I’d encourage you not to set your mind at all. I recently read a story about a women who had decided to become a doctor in high school. Now, years later, she said “I have a career chosen for me by a high school kid”. Of course, you will have to make decisions and commitments, but make sure they are yours and always keep an open mind about them, and take no pride in making them any sooner than you have to.
2. Understand your fears and face them. In a world as free as the one you are entering, one of the strongest forces holding you back are the fears in your own heart. Nothing can distract you more from finding your love and your destiny whether it be a person or a career or anything else than fear. You’ll find that the sound of the murmurs of your heart we call passion are faint compared with the loud, cacophonous clanging of your fears. The first step in finding our passion is to quiet our fears. Learn to face your fears early, most importantly Learn to fail, early and often (and publicly if at all possible.) You will find that failure is like an old, loudly barking dog who terrifies the neighborhood, but has no teeth. You need to get bit by him a time or two to understand that.
3. Take responsibility for charting your own course. Have others fixed a course for you? Learn to disappoint them. Frost’s paths in the forest are largely gone, so are the days where you could entrust your future to your education, or corporation or even social norms. Now you must take responsibility for understanding history, the great works, and the broader world yourself. These form your map and without that you can’t really know the greater context in which your life has meaning. It may not be a better map than others create, but it at least it will be your map, and most importantly you won’t have any illusions it came from an infallible source. You will know when to depart from it.
4. You will find your passion and your destiny, not on a distant shore through a set of binoculars, but at the tips of your fingers, not by observing, but by doing. Experience the world as it comes, living moment by moment in the present. They say a journey of a 1000 miles starts with a single step, in fact it ends with a single step and has single steps all along the way. Our lives are not lived by giant proclamations or momentous sweeping decisions, it’s often only in retrospect that we realize which the important moments were. Focus on putting your energy into the daily tasks and the daily decision, and instead of asking what the long term strategic impact of your daily work is, ask simply if it brings you satisfaction and joy. If you have truly opened your heart, that question will be your best compass for knowing when to continue and when to change direction.
I am so excited for your future because on this last point you are already on your way. The gift of your experience thus far have ventured well into the realm of “doing” of “building” and of creating real things, taking real action, in the real world. I believe that flame, once ignited will never be extinguished, that lesson will never be unlearned.
And what is the future for these 43 young people, will they make history? As people from around the world can testify, they are in fact already well on their way.
In closing, I leave you with the most important & simple point I can. You 43 come from a very special time and place. Your principal, your teachers, your parents, and from Beyond Design to NU, your larger community has come together to vest in you our hopes and dreams, and to unlock in you the full power of the times to which you were born.
As you venture out into this big world, you will meet people who won’t know your background, who don’t know what you have learned and experienced here, So they naturally cannot be expected to understand you and what you are capable of. They will throw around words like “impossible” and “can’t,” and in dark, inevitable moments of disappointment, their words will ecco. So yes, be humble and listen to criticism, that’s how you grow, but alway remember those words are relative, impossible never really means impossible, but only “impossible for me.” “Can’t” means only “I can’t” or “I can’t imagine.” In those moments, hold the memories of what we did together dear, and honor that memory by remembering that all the efforts of your community were meant for one purpose, that no definition of “impossible” created by outsiders will ever be yours.
Your mountains are waiting, get out there and make us proud.