President Loh, thank you for your outstanding leadership here of Maryland’s flagship University.
Through some of the toughest economic times, you have led us forward to higher excellence and deeper understanding.
Thank you, Dr. Loh, for your service, and for inviting me to share this happy moment with all of you today.
As I was writing my message for your big day, my young staff warned me of a diabolical new post on Wired.com for such occasions called:
Commencement Cliché BINGO –
It arranges no fewer than 24 clichéd graduation phrases on a grid – phrases like
"Be true to yourself."
"Follow your dreams."
"The future is yours to shape."
And, the indispensible "It is a great honor."
Now, being a modern, collaborative, open-data leader, I would never try stop you from playing Cliché BINGO on your smart-phones.
But you should know that the following words have been very carefully chosen and checked –
So if anyone next to you yells BINGO in the middle of these remarks, know that they are a cheating,...
So, let us commence.
President Loh, esteemed faculty, members of the Board of Regents, parents, relatives and friends,
It is a great honor…
…to say Congratulations to the 2014 Graduating Class of the University of Maryland College Park!
Today marks the end of a journey for all of you –
and the beginning of a new journey for mankind.
In the classic film in the canon of great American Cinema,
"Back to the Future 2"
We were offered a vision of America in the year 2015 – a future that is just several months from today.
It’s a vision that includes hover-boards, food re-hydrators and flying cars powered by nuclear fusion,
Not to mention, a World Series win by the Cubs.
In our present seats, we can laugh at how little that Hollywood vision matches reality.
It is not our predictions that shape the world; it is our choices --
the choices that you,... our new leaders,... will make.
State of the World
You enter an astonishingly complex world riddled with crises and dysfunctional institutions.
A world of breathtaking social innovation,
A world of scientific discovery and technological advancement -- at a pace never before achieved.
A world rich in contradictions, humbling in its rate of change, jaw dropping in its implications for our future.
Some would have us believe that we inhabit a world of polarities, schisms, and discord.
Some see a future doomed to pull apart, where divisiveness only deepens.
But you see the world in another way:
as a continuous circle of humanity where nothing is foreign.
Where there is only one human yearning the world over -- for prosperity, for security, for freedom.
One circle, broken only by the walls we build between us, and the darkness our compassion has yet to overcome.
The Life of a City
When I was elected mayor in 1999, my city, Baltimore had become the most violent, most addicted, most abandoned city in America.
At one of our first community meetings in a hard hit neighborhood of East Baltimore, citizens assembled talk to their new Mayor.
To talk about crime and public safety.
There was a tension in the air. A fear about what might be.
A little girl came up to the microphone.
"Mr. Mayor," she said, "my name is Amber, and I am 12 years old.
And because of all the addicted people and drug dealers in my neighborhood,
there are people in the newspaper who call my neighborhood, 'Zombie Land.'
And I want to know if you know they call my neighborhood Zombie Land,…
and I want to know if you’re doing anything about it?"
Her two questions,... are the two essential questions.
Do you know?
Are you doing something about it?
We took action in Baltimore that changed the future of the city.
Many police officers gave their lives to change our city.
Over the next 10 years, Baltimore went on to achieve the biggest reduction in part 1 crime of any major city in America.
None of it was simple or easy; the problems of crime, poverty, and addiction were all complex.
Progress was complicated.
But at the root of the problem, the essential questions that we needed were fairly simple.
A 12 year old girl made it plain as day, in a room full of frustrated adults.
She got in my face. The room fell away.
The crowd narrowed.
One heart asked of another: do you know, and are you doing something about it.
What I heard was one person speaking simply to another person.
And I have never forgotten that moment.
Ideas vs. Ideology
Humanity is at a portal in history -- another kind of commencement –
A threshold of time requiring a fundamental transformation.
A transformation in understanding our relationship to the world around us; our relationship to the living systems of nature, and to the way we live and work with each other.
In your 21st century world, the way forward is propelled by ideas, not ideologies.
A world where imagination is far more powerful than indoctrination.
Many of you were just freshman when, in 2011, you and your classmates here at the University of Maryland took first place in the Department of Energy's National Solar Decathalon.
Blending affordability, consumer appeal, and design excellence with optimal clean energy production -- you built "Watershed," a new kind of home. A home that produces and gives to the grid more renewable energy than it consumes.
You fashioned your dream into a new reality.
Yesterday's ideologies and ‘isms’ separate us; yesterday's ideologies dictate by excuse.
"Fearless ideas ignite."
Your ideas break the old symmetries. Your ideas question, your ideas liberate.
Your emerging global community is enlivened -- made more empathetic -- by always-growing, always-changing networks.
All that we need depends on change.
This is not a sentiment. It is pragmatism.
Shared intelligence, faster connections, deeper connections -- a higher consciousness of the newly possible.
Our world is an extraordinary system of interactions.
And soon it will be a very different system.
A system designed and driven by your generation –
A generation uninterested in rhetorical turf wars about communism, capitalism, fundamentalism, or socialism,
a generation that longs to make the earth work for all people:
to create new systems that empower rather than hinder,
to engender ideas that enliven the human spirit.
Our desire to heal human suffering and to improve human well-being.
Our desire to wage peace.
The thrust of current history is too pliant for a single label,
but its emerging themes draw from an ecological convulsion.
This new future will see a reinvention of market-based economies,
greater empowerment of women,
local control of new circular economies to feed our people and fuel our work,
and a cry for radical transparency and performance-measurement in government.
Institutional power will become more collaborative, less hierarchical; distributed rather than centralized.
'Open source' will be the standard for much more than just software code.
We are All in this Together
For your generation realizes some important truths.
You realize them more keenly with each information-soaked day.
We are all in this together.
And, together we share one story -- and only one story -- that is self-referential:
We live on a single biosphere.
It is moving 67,000 miles per hour around our sun.
And our prosperity and the prosperity of our children's lives depends upon it's health,...
Climate change is the transformation that transforms everything.
It is a transformation of education and language, of mobility and our connection to each other, of farming and forestry, of buildings, energy and cities.
And it requires a transformation of our imagination.
We are adept at imagining the end of the world, but not so good at imagining a new beginning.
To those who say reversing the impact of climate change is impossible, Robert Heinlein once wrote,
"Everything is theoretically impossible, until it is done.
One could write a history of science in reverse by assembling the solemn pronouncements of highest authority about what could not be done and could never happen."
To those who say climate change is not caused by human activity, or that addressing it will harm the economy, let’s encourage them to go to college too, and to study physics and economics.
But for the rest of us, let’s go to work.
The technology exists, it is only the will that is lacking.
We cannot become more prosperous without the living systems upon which our prosperity depends.
No matter what degree you have earned, whether you are an economist, nurse, engineer, architect, or teacher, we all share a single urgent calling –
to preserve, create, and advance the conditions that are conducive to life.
There is only one super-power on this small earth -- it is the power of love.
So fall in love with this pulsing living world.
Fall in love with its suffering.
Fall in love with its beautiful fragility.
We still have time to become great ancestors;
To carry our story forward with the on-going story of a life-giving creation.
We are in a period of rapid change. We need even more rapid iteration of ideas and actions.
So, do what works, and do more of it.
Imagine smarter, better, and more prosperous ways to live together.
Make mistakes and welcome failure.
Fail often, fail better,... but never fail this mission.
Do this, and your generation will know something extraordinary—
You will live in the most important of days –
when humankind, in the nick of time, finally decided to live in harmony with the other living systems of our earth.
Nothing less is required.
Nothing less will do.
The hope of humanity goes with you.
With your lives, you will answer the essential questions of our planet.
Because -- You know.
Because -- You choose to do something about it.
And for all of these reasons, I look forward to the new world you will create.
Thank you and congratulations.