November 13, 2003

Graduation Speech

I had intended to put this up a while ago, but it didn't happen. So here it is: my two-minute graduation speech from U.C. Berkeley's 2003 Computer Science graduation. Thanks again to Ben Blake for allowing me to lift one of my favorite quotes from him and put it in the speech.

All of us here have probably been asked many times, “Why computer science?” I certainly have, and depending upon the situation—and possibly the person’s gender—I might have tried to change the topic. But as we stand here poised to graduate from a rigorous and universally respected program, it might behoove us to remind ourselves just why we made this choice.

Obviously, the reasons among us are varied, but I would claim as a common thread the joy of creation. And it’s not just that “the possibilities are endless”; it’s that the possibilities are amazing. Technology is every day redefining our world, becoming ever more powerful while ever more ubiquitous. Computer Science is a field so ripe with potential and so marked by its infancy that it can be hard to imagine wanting to do anything else.

Yet that doesn’t answer the full question: “Why computer science in Letters and Science?” I like to think that it’s because we have not forsaken the ideals of a classical education. That we came to Berkeley not to become mere conduits of code, but to seek an education, which in its definition implies a multi-faceted and encompassing exposure. Whether it’s basic knowledge from physics (“Hey, bubbles can burst!”), a deeper understanding of philosophy and human nature, the guiding principles of economics and politics, or a greater appreciation of the arts, we have much to learn from the many subjects of our world.

This is especially important as we move forward as a people. Advancement doesn’t come from technology alone, but from ideas, principles, and wisdom. The technology will continue to raise questions that we will have to answer. Let us not become just monkeys building better weapons, but people of thought, of reason, of understanding, and of appreciation.

On this campus 41 years ago, John F. Kennedy proclaimed, “Every great age is marked by innovation and daring—by the ability to meet unprecedented problems with intelligent solutions.” While the problems we will face will indeed be unprecedented, so too will be our capabilities. We chose to pursue an intriguing fusion of technical rigor and classical study. And we should be proud that we will leave here not only with a piece of paper, but an education with which to meet the world.

This writing was posted at 03:36 PM