Alex Kipman’s 2013 commencement speech

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A. Sue Weisler

Alex Kipman, a 2001 graduate of RIT’s B. Thomas Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences – now an executive with Microsoft – delivered the keynote address on Friday.

Alex Kipman, a 2001 graduate of RIT’s B. Thomas Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences – now an executive with Microsoft – delivered the keynote address at RIT’s 128th convocation, the opening event of the 2013 commencement weekend. Below is the full text of his speech:

“President Destler, Board of Trustees, and beautiful people of all kinds… let me first and above all, congratulate the graduates, their families and their friends, thank the faculty, administration and staff for tending, feeding and protecting the graduates during this amazing journey, and finally let me express how deeply honored, humbled and thankful I am to be back here today, 12 years after graduating from this amazing family called RIT.

“Welcome to graduation! Class of 2013, you have arrived!

“What an amazing, once in a lifetime event! Feeling the gravitas of the moment yet? Class of 2013, today you represent humanity at its very best. Let's together wallow in that concept.

“Every single graduating student has the indelible right to make a dream into reality. Graduation, like many other life events, is the process of turning a page and opening a brand-new chapter. In every case, the new chapter has a probability to yield the next profound revolution in knowledge and life as we know it.

“How can anyone feel prepared for the infinite probabilities that ensue, where there is no means of testing which decision is better, since there is no basis for comparison? I can only attempt to answer that question, with a quote from the great master Michelangelo, who said: ‘The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.’

“Class of 2013, please do not fall into the trap of only committing to what’s predictable. One of the things we are too often measured on is success. Sometimes this is exclusively what we are measured on. Instead, measure yourself by your failures. If you are not failing, and if you are not failing often, you are not trying hard enough. Think of failure as a stepping stone to ever greater success in life. Failure is not an end, but rather it is a bridge to future success. Resilience, and the ability to quickly rebound from failures renews you, and makes you more balanced, more creative and ultimately leads you to a more fulfilling life.

“Do not let fear hold you back. Fear of failure, fear of ridicule, fear of not knowing. When you want to accomplish something disruptive, you have to take risks. Revolutions in knowledge and life as we know it require this. I would not be here today without taking risks. I would not be here today without having failed, without being ridiculed, without spending the majority of my life dealing with the unknown.

“Graduates, you represent humanity at its very best. Defy the impossible and refuse to fear failure. Imagine what you could accomplish, if you knew failure didn't matter? Graduates, the world needs you to not be boring.

“Welcome to the rest of your life! Class of 2013, you have arrived!

“How does it feel to be free?

“Today, you are not only free, but most importantly you are free to achieve and free to find purpose!! Freedom, however, is only part of the story and half of the truth. In the Ying and Yang of life, FREEDOM is the Ying whose Yang is RESPONSIBILITY.

“Graduates, it is your responsibility to search for meaning and this should be your primary motivation in life. Without meaning, life will feel empty and with that emptiness comes aggression, addiction and depression.

“In the words of Heroes: ‘Save the cheerleader… save the world!’ Said differently, to save one life is to save the entirety of humankind. This starts with you and your life. You have been given rare gifts of intelligence, love, wonder and laughter. You would not be here today without these, recognize how special that makes you. Do not take these gifts for granted, and do not allow yourself to one day say life was not interesting. Class of 2013, the world expects you to do a lot better than that, which brings me to the interactive part of this conversation. Are we ready?!

“Beautiful people of all ages, clear your thoughts. Now, search for the happiest moment in your life.

“Hold on to that moment. Is that magic moment in the first or second half of your life? If it's ever in the first half, you run the risk of one day looking back in regret. Half-life is a concept typically used to describe radioactive decay, but it also applies to life. Imagine being 60 years old and the happiest moment of your life happened before you were 30. Imagine being part of the graduating class of 2013 and that moment happened before you were 11. Ask this question to the next 10-year-old you see, and I guarantee you their happiest moment won't be before they were 5.

“Life is constantly knocking on your door asking for meaning. We are all born pre-disposed to live life to the fullest. Enriching and fulfilling experiences surround us. Do not let the machinery of modern society cloud your vision. Do not allow consumerism, corporations or societal dogma get in the way. his is all noise!! You need to focus on the signal in life.

“If your happiest moment ever falls in the first half of your life, ask yourself if you have given up doing what you love? You must slowly, but relentlessly, wipe from your psyche every trace of the alluring, but insupportable past, and build a new set of dreams and behaviors on a more present basis. A basis that is not supported by money alone, but places a higher priority on a healthy body that is allowed to exist without the stress and threats of today's society. Do you still have a heartbeat? If so you can still do something about it. It's time to re-establish these eternal values.

“We don't simply exist, instead we decide what our existence will be. Quantum physics teaches us that infinite probabilities exist at any point in time, and through the process of measuring we destroy all options and we create the present. In other words, humans are ultimately self-determining. You, and you alone, get to decide, from moment of time to moment of time, what you will become in the next moment. By the same philosophy, all of us, at any instant, have the freedom to change.

“There is much wisdom in the words of Nietzsche: ‘He who has a why to live for… can bear almost any how.’

“Graduates, never give up on what you really want to do. The world needs you to keep dreaming ever bigger dreams. Afraid others won't get it? Vision by definition is something most people can't see. Otherwise we would not call it vision we would call it common sense. Butterflies in your stomach? Now you know you are doing it right! Embrace the fear you feel within. Make sure that as life passes you by, that you are always running towards something, and never find yourself running away from something. Believe in yourself, take the leap, and jump off the cliff. fraid you will not survive? Only mediocrity is sure of itself, so take risks and focus on what you love. Which brings us to love…

“Class of 2013, above all you must love.

“Be unwavering about love in your life. Be unapologetic about empathy. Above all, be loyal to those around you who believed, and were willing to jump off the cliff with you. Being competent at love is quite different from being wise about it. Over the years, I have seen people take one of two paths: the competent one or the wise one. In the competent path you superficially flow through relationships. In the wise path, you use your experience, knowledge and understanding to make meaningful and profound relationships.

“Love is what you really know in your heart and in your gut. It's not logical, but it is both real and true. True knowledge comes from feeling and experience. It's not quantifiable and you can't learn it from a book. But you know when you love another human, you know when you are moved by a book, music, or a sunset. These feelings bring you inner peace not because someone has listed all the good characteristics of the person you love, or explained the sentence structure in the book, the mathematical precision of the music, or the light waves of the sunset, but because you experience it, you feel it. Logic has nothing to do with it. In fact, the truth of knowing something is much more powerful, accurate, and trustworthy than linear processes of ‘learning’ or ‘understanding.’

“Being a Kirk, rather than a Spock, is the most important and hardest lesson I have learned in my life. As most, I had to practically lose everything I ever loved before I paid attention to this side of life. It was the year we shipped Kinect, it was a turning point in my life, and it changed me forever. I had to confront the reality of being one of the ‘lucky’ few that achieved a lifelong dream, and yet I was empty inside and my life had no meaning. Fortunately, I am lucky, and I have an enlightened aunt who loves me in the absolute sense. She embraced me, like only true mothers do, and she encouraged me to sit quietly and think for days in her off the grid farm in Brazil.

“I had to contrast the short term excitement I was feeling with the impact it was having on my relationships, family and character. I concluded that nothing in life compares to the warmth and care of spending a lifetime with a soul mate, watching a daughter grow and become involved in worthwhile endeavors and behaviors. I felt and I knew that if I chose wisely and loved deeply she would grow up and come home not as a matter of not having a job, or needing support, but to enjoy and share the holidays and life with us.

“Class of 2013, if you keep anything from today, keep the thought of being a Kirk rather than a Spock. It will serve you well and it will help you to find meaning in life.

“Graduates, I close today with one heartfelt wish. I wish it for every single one of you. I will wish it three times in a row to ensure it sticks:

“I wish the graduating class of 2013 to be lucky.

“I wish the graduating class of 2013 to be lucky.

“I wish the graduating class of 2013 to be lucky.

“Everything comes to lucky people. Lucky people do what they love and love what they do. Lucky people find meaning. Lucky people find love, prosperity and health. Lucky people recover from mistakes. Lucky people, when faced with a 50/50 decision choose correctly.

“I wish luck for every single one of you.”

Kipman's speech is also available on YouTube.

Note: Video available for this story