2013 Valedictory Oration
June 4, 2013 — As Prepared
Princeton University Class of 2013
Students, faculty, families and distinguished guests,
Today, I have the distinct honor of speaking amongst the brightest and most talented individuals I have ever met, individuals who I am proud to call my friends, my classmates, my peers, Princeton's Class of 2013. Over the past few years, we were lucky enough to call these hallowed halls our home, and within these gates we learned, we laughed, we loved and we labored, as so many have done before us and so many will in generations to come.
Today, of course, is the day they kick us out to make room for the new tenants. In a few hours, we'll all receive a really fancy eviction notice, so fancy that most of it is written in Latin. In a way, our diploma is just that, a note telling us that our time here is done, that we are supposedly ready to face the world.
As we calmly sit here in front of Nassau Hall, I'm sure that for many of us the real world still seems so far away. Thinking back, it is hard to imagine how finishing that problem set about Bessel functions or writing that explication of Shakespeare's Sonnet 18 prepared us for the challenges yet to come.
But maybe we need to step back and see the forest for the trees. The facts you barely memorized for a final or the not-so-coherent paper you wrote the night before Dean's Date probably won't play a role in your future endeavors, but perhaps all our experiences here will collectively help us in some inchoate way. As T. H. White once said, education is experience and the essence of experience is self-reliance. So if you are an MAE major who suddenly decides to become a jazz musician or a comparative literature major who wants to take up quantitative trading, or even if you don't quite step off the beaten path, maybe that slip of paper you get today, that eviction notice, will be a reminder that you can do anything you set your mind to, that you really can make your way in the world. (At the very least, if you're like me, it'll remind you that you're pretty good at getting things done at the last minute. I was still working on this speech five minutes ago.)
But in a larger sense, maybe that piece of paper will remind you that even though we are young and still have much to learn, many lessons to come aren't neatly organized in Course Offerings on the Registrar's page. Learning how to embody not just intelligence but also virtue, for example, or learning how to chase not just success but also happiness: Many of these lessons we will have to teach ourselves, and some we will only learn after we walk out FitzRandolph Gate.
So as we pack our bags and fill our hearts with ideas, optimism and hope, we prepare for an adventure into exciting times. The world is getting smaller, flatter and more connected. Our generation faces challenges, old and new, on all fronts. It is now our job to dedicate ourselves to the task at hand, that from our time here we take an increased devotion to paving a better future, in this nation and in all nations. This is a daunting task, for sure, and one for which even Google doesn't provide instructions. But perhaps we can start by asking ourselves a question: What if we strive to be more than we are told we can be?
Eleven years ago, a small Argentinean boy asked himself the same thing. This little boy loved to play soccer, and he was outstanding for his age. However, he had been diagnosed with a disorder that would hinder his growth, so much so that many in his shoes would have abandoned hope of playing professionally in a sport where players have consistently gotten bigger and stronger. But this boy reached for something more. When offered the chance of a lifetime, he signed a contract written on the back of a paper napkin to join a youth academy in Barcelona. Despite his small stature, Lionel Messi has grown up to become the greatest soccer player in history. Messi's story is a testament to the fact that regardless of the cards we have been dealt, the future we create is entirely within our hands.
Just like that napkin served as Messi's ticket to greatness, maybe that slip of paper you receive today is your ticket aboard a flight — a flight whose final destination is limited only by your ambition. And whether you want to search for a Grand Unified Theory or compete for a Grand Slam, I urge you to jump into the cockpit and fly further than you were supposed to fly — be more than you were supposed to be. Because, in the words of Steve Jobs, the people who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world are the ones who do.
Congratulations, Class of 2013. For what we have done and for what is yet to come.