I am proud to begin by congratulating our students for earning -- not just getting -- but earning your degree. So on behalf of everyone gathered here in Old Westbury, all 12,000 of us, Congratulations 2010 graduates: We salute you.
Fifty years ago, before we commonly spoke of globalization or the information economy or multinational corporations, Winston Churchill foresaw that "the empires of the future are the empires of the mind." He foresaw this day.
Here among you are many personal and NYIT success stories. Today we graduate students from 46 states and 67 countries. Today we celebrate the success of 4,000 graduates; 51 percent have earned undergraduate degrees, 49 percent have earned graduate, medical, professional or post-graduate degrees.
With us are students who studied at NYIT campuses in Abu Dhabi, Manhattan, Amman; Bahrain, Nanjing and elsewhere in China; Old Westbury, Vancouver, and online. We celebrate you. Each and every one of you studied the same curriculum in your respective fields, studied with NYIT professors, sometimes the same professors on more than one campus, and all of you have earned the unique New York Institute of Technology degree and relevant diploma. That is extraordinary. No other university around the globe can cite such a distinguished accomplishment. You are part of a global university, and you are part of a university that the world needs.
This year, the very first of our undergraduates from NYIT-Nanjing are graduating, and to help us celebrate their success, with us is the chairman of our sister institution NUPT, Nanjing University of Posts and Telecommunications. Welcome and thank you, Chairman Min.
Today, you take your place as citizens of the empire of knowledge that Churchill spoke of. Your years in college have included massive upheaval in the global economy. And now with your new credential it is time to face the challenges of the outside world. And guess what, you really lucked out -- the outside world has never been so challenging.
In the empires of the mind, your bachelor's or advanced degree will help you weather downturns and in fact will pay enormous benefits…both personal and financial. Some analysts say a bachelor's degree alone is worth nearly a million dollars more than a high school degree. During this recent economic crisis -- now lurching towards equilibrium, it seems -- the unemployment rate for college graduates was less than half the national average. In the years ahead, you will be even more in demand, as analysts say there will be a shortage of white collar workers as the Baby Boomers retire.
During my mid-twenties, in a chance encounter directly facilitated by another one of those periodic tough economic time periods, I met a French woman on a bus in Istanbul. She became my wife and life's companion. Surprised me, and neither of us could have predicted where we are today -- she's here today, sitting in the front row -- or doing what we have done. Amazing. No doubt your future will be filled with surprises and unanticipated opportunities.
And one reminder, to you and to your parents and loved ones: adolescence in America ends at 30. Really. But for those parents who shifted a little uncomfortably in their seats just now, relax. Middle age today starts at fifty. So 50 is the new 40, except in Beverly Hills where -- and with apologies to future plastic surgeons in the audience -- they pretend 60 is the new 40.
Some years after Conan O'Brien graduated from Harvard, he was brought back to speak at commencement. He began by saying: "The last time I was invited to Harvard, it cost me $110,000 so you'll forgive me if I am a bit suspicious." Those were Harvard dollars of 25 years ago. Right now a lot of people in the audience, especially the medical students, are doing their own ugly math in their heads.
So, besides finding a good job, starting a new business, or becoming the world's wealthiest or most unsuccessful talk show host, what else should you do with your quality -- and as alluded to, expensive -- education?
Be ready to give it away. We live in an Open Source world, don't we? You are and will be even richer for it, and I'm not talking about money.
In the empires of the mind, the chief currency is not cash or credit, but knowledge -- what we have come to call knowledge capital. It cannot be hoarded.
During just the past three weeks, the world has added population equivalent to every person living on Manhattan Island. That's right: since the beginning of the month, when most of you finished your last classes, 1.6 million more people joined the world than departed it. At the beginning of the 20th century, there were 1.5 billion people of all ages on earth. Today there are 1 billion teenagers. Now I wonder if that means about 2 billion parents and grandparents signed up for unlimited texting?
In an era of such growth, not only will you prosper. You will find purpose everywhere around you...
Maybe you will find ways to create a more literate world, a cleaner environment, a smarter health care system. You might reshape business models that can keep pace economically and socially, or digital systems that are both more secure and more connected.
Can there be any doubt that you are needed, urgently?
We do not live in silos. For our ideas -- our inventions -- our knowledge to be sustained and sustainable, they must propagate. The results can be astonishing.
One of the great innovators of the modern digital era is Douglas Engelbart, who had a sharp insight about the propagation of ideas decades ago when he was walking near the beach in Venice, California.
That day, he spotted a bunch of skateboarders -- yes, early skateboarders -- doing things that did not seem possible. They pumped and glided down the street, heading straight for the sidewalk curb. He found himself tensed as he watched, waiting for them to crash and go flying. But before they hit, they would go airborne: the boards would lift off from the street; the skaters would twist or spin in the air, and their feet never left the board - like Aladdins on flying wooden carpets. Old stuff to us 2010ers.
Watching them, Engelbart realized that whoever invented the skateboard -- the simple design of wheels fixed to the bottom of a narrow plank -- could not have predicted this use. You simply could never have engineered the sequence of physical changes and reactions.
If Google had invented the skateboard, it would have been known, as Skateboard Beta. A work in progress. Among other things, Google has taught us that to empower innovation, we must become conversant with the concept of Living in Beta.
So it is with our education. What we know today is not constant. Some things we know will remain true. But many will be edited, added, footnoted, paraphrased, or simply deleted.
That editing will be done in collaborative hubs that span the world. They are being built as we speak, with transformational tools -- the sharing apps -- that create pathways around the earth in an instant. We are living in a global public commons of the intellect.
We at NYIT believe you are prepared to be agile and adapt to new knowledge. We have offered courses in Business Administration, Management and Entrepreneurship -- to teach you how to run things. We have offered courses in Psychology, Communication, Education, English and Advertising -- to teach you how to understand things, say things, sell things. We have offered courses in Architecture and Engineering -- to help you build things.
Technology? We have exposed you to many aspects of technology to help prepare you for careers -- and contributions -- in your respective fields. We hope we have offered you the knowledge, too, that your greatest strengths are in your flexibility, your openness, your ability to synthesize information.
As students and, in a few minutes, graduates of NYIT, you are part of a rich heritage of innovation, sustainability, and collaboration. Back in 1973, faculty and students at NYIT designed and built our first hybrid car. Think about it: At the time, a young fellow named Steve Jobs was taking a calligraphy class in Oregon; another teenager, one Bill Gates, was serving as a congressional page.
Over the years, not only have our faculty and students built newer hybrid vehicles; they have also debuted a solar-powered carport on this campus. Others will surely improve on them. Think of it as free-styling with knowledge.
The multiplier effect does not just apply to skateboards. Just look at our dais of forward-thinkers, including our honorary degree recipients Dr. Cooper and Ray Kurzweil.
Optical scanners had been around for several years when Ray Kurzweil and his associates merged a scanner with a voice synthesizer in 1976. With that, a book could be made to read itself aloud; blind people could read anything, even if the material had not been rendered in Braille. The first Kurzweil Reading Machine covered a tabletop. Thirty years later, its descendant -- combining a digital camera as the scanner and a voice synthesizer -- fits in your pocket. Ray Kurzweil climbed a ladder of ideas.
Now, Doug Engelbart, who stopped to watch those skateboarders, may have more experience than anyone alive with how inventions can take off. He holds Patent 3.541.541, formally described as an "X_Y position indicator for a display system."
We know it today as the computer mouse. Back in the 1960s, he thought files on one computer could be linked with another. He envisioned a "position indicator" -- alias, the mouse -- that would point to the linked file and open it. And then imagine: computers in one place -- say, Old Westbury -- could speak to others, for instance, in Manama, Bahrain.
These were the cave paintings of the digital age: the first lines of hyper-linked language, the roots of the Graphic User Interface, the fundamental ways we communicate with our computers and with the Empire of Knowledge.
We cannot imagine, we cannot dream, we cannot invent without knowledge. We cannot be ourselves, let alone our future selves. The future empire of the mind will be a different one from today's.
As you leave here today, get on your metaphorical skateboards. Go out and explore. Create. Lead. Remake the world.
And have a disposition to speak gently … to love much … to laugh often … to give freely … to pay promptly … and to be kind. Do make us proud.
Congratulations and best wishes to the Class of 2010.
Edward Guiliano, Ph.D., is president and CEO of New York Institute of Technology (NYIT). Since 2000, he has led NYIT to broad recognition as a distinguished institution of higher learning with a firm national, global, and digital footprint in a wide range of forward-thinking academic programs at the undergraduate, graduate, and professional levels.