June 27, 2017
The following is a transcript of remarks given at RIT's 132nd Commencement Ceremonies in May, 2017.
Inscribed in stone at the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial down in Washington D.C. are the words “We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice."
Dr. King used these powerful words, originally spoken by abolitionist minister Theodore Parker, many times to inspire meaningful hope in the context of reality.
In his book The Moral Arc: How Science Makes Us Better People, Michael Shermer makes the case that science, rationality, and for that matter, art, has made and will continue to make the world a more just place. Increasing human knowledge and understanding makes us better, because the fear of the unknown is weakened just a little bit.
Today, all you wonderful RIT students graduate.The RIT faculty and staff take tremendous pride knowing we have added you to our educated citizenry. It is our way of making the world, well, better.
Now you will go off to jobs in your field or to graduate schools of your choice. Yet for you, there is no simple path doing the same work for the entirety of your career. It is predicted that machine learning, voice and image recognition, and robotics are technologies that will be major disruptors to our notion of work. McKinsey and Company recently released a report indicating that “45 percent of the activities individuals are paid to perform today can be automated by adapting currently demonstrated technologies."
Is there a hedge against this disruption and, if so, what is it? I am happy to say that many of the skills that you have learned during your time at RIT are exactly what you need. Social skills like working in teams, communicating effectively and having empathy for others, for example, bring the critical human value to this new notion of work. But the most important asset is the curious mind, for it is the curious mind that will constantly be learning. Learning new ideas, methods, technologies, and solutions keeps you current so that you can be a valuable contributor to society and to industry. You have a powerful asset: your RIT education has helped you learn how to learn.
So I leave you with but one thing: keep learning. Keep learning so that your career can be nimble, flexible and so you can proactively face the automation juggernaut. But more importantly, keep learning so that we all can make the world a better, and more just place.
Class of 2017: We are super proud of you! Congratulations!