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To the graduating seniors [2008]

Class of 2008/2012 - Congratulations.

You will love college. Absolutely love it. Even if they give you an awful, nonsensical meal plan, you will love hating that.

Now, I have a question for you. If you were in the top one percent of something, would you do something to show that uniqueness?
By going to college, you are part of a unique one percent of the whole world, and are one of the brightest hopes for the future. I don't say this to make you feel guilty, but powerful.

Realize that this means that you all have the leverage to change the world. Keep in mind that a degree is more indicative of your potential than a limitation of your possibilities. According to the Department of Labor, several of the most important jobs in 2012 do not even exist yet...( http://youtube.com/watch?v=pMcfrLYDm2U )
So if your degree can prepare you for what is still unimagined, surely you can take this potential to do what you've always wanted.

For advice on the meaning of life and achieving even impossible-sounding dreams, I can recommend no one more highly than Dr. Randy Pausch, who hails from Carnegie Mellon. At the same time I was arriving at college, Dr. Pausch was leaving an incredible career transcending the arts, sciences, and entertainment - unfortunately because of terminal pancreatic cancer. His "Last Lecture" left a lasting impression on me and millions of others who have seen the full 100-minute version, YouTube summaries, the Oprah special, or his newly-released book. Get it on audiotape if you like. It's a tearjerker.
( http://thelastlecture.com/ )

There are plenty of other people who have taken their potential to realize their dreams of changing the world. I typed a good portion of this on my XO-Laptop, which has millions of orders planned for 3rd-world schoolchildren. Dr. Nicholas Negroponte developed this "100 dollar laptop" with technologies and business models that no one believed would be possible three years ago. His organization is still struggling, but only because computer giants like IBM and Intel have followed his lead and are now competing with him. Dr. Negroponte opened a door that people said wasn't worth opening, and he may have changed the world by doing it.

You might want to look for inspiration and perspective in TED lecture videos. Several scientists, artists, engineers, and visionaries have spoken at TED about their work around the world, and those videos are now available online. Search for a subject or a name and you will be able to see how the obscurest of topics can be astonishing and new, learn how small groups change continents, or hear experts finally explain the Big Bang, the human brain, and the other wonders of the universe in understandable terms. Intellectual stimulation at its best.
( http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/list )

Sometime in the middle of my year at college, I became convinced that I could do a little bit to change the world as well. I want to start a non-profit for high school students to take part in science activism. I am not majoring in science, education, public policy, or management -- but I still see an opportunity for me to do something with that potential I mentioned earlier.
The reason that I bring this up is to emphasize that your attempt to change the world might have nothing to do with your major. That's no reason to abandon it. You have that leverage which makes even a side commitment powerful enough to change the world; your vision and input can organize people with a variety of experiences to complement your own.

Don't be afraid to consider new things. Discuss crazy ideas until they fall into the realm of possibility. Find something - whether it's your major or something you're casually interested in - and think about its possibilities. Read about the sort of things going on in that field that are innovative, unusual, and different.
Expect what Dr. Pausch calls "brick walls" - the obstacles in life which are there to test your resolve. For weeks, I had no idea how to market and fund my idea. Then, one night, I drew it all out on a bubble chart which describes a simple yet ingenious system. Since then, responses have been universally positive and encouraging.

One more thing: give back; when you see flyers for groups and lectures with corny concepts like freedom, justice, and innovation, don't turn down an opportunity to listen to people or help the cause - they can inspire you and you can encourage them.

It's not only possible to change the world, it's going to be all around you in a few months.

Wishing you all the best,
Nick