Class of 2009! First I’d like you to stand up, and wave and cheer your supportive family and friends! I’m sure you can find them out there. Show your love!
A long time ago, in this cold September of 1962, there was a Steven’s co-op at this very university. That co-op had a kitchen with a ceiling that had been cleaned by student volunteers probably every decade or so. Picture a college girl named Gloria, climbing up high on a ladder, struggling to clean that filthy ceiling. Standing on the floor, a young boarder named Carl was admiring the view. And that’s how they met. They were my parents, so I suppose you could say I’m a direct result of that kitchen chemistry experiment, right here at Michigan.
Everyone in my family went here to Michigan: my brother, my Mom, my Dad—all of us. My father’s father worked in the Chevy plant in Flint, Michigan. He was an assembly line worker. He drove his two children here to Ann Arbor, and told them: That is where you’re going to college. I know it sounds funny now. Both of his kids actually did graduate from Michigan. That was the American dream.
What I’m trying to tell you, this is WAY more than a homecoming for me. I have a story about following dreams. Or maybe more accurately, it’s a story about finding a path to make those dreams real.
You know what it’s like to wake up in the middle of the night with a vivid
dream? And you know how, if you don’t have a pencil and pad by the bed, it will be completely gone by the next morning?
Well, I had one of those dreams when I was 23. When I suddenly woke up, I was thinking: What if we could download the whole web, and just keep the links? And I grabbed a pen and started writing! Sometimes it’s important to wake up and stop dreaming. I spent the middle of that night scribbling
out the details and convincing myself it would work. Soon after, I told my advisor, Terry Winograd, it would take a couple of weeks for me to download the web—he nodded knowingly, fully aware it would take much longer but wise enough not to tell me. The optimism
of youth is often underrated! Amazingly, at that time, I have no thoughts building a search engine. The idea wasn’t even on the radar. But, much later we happened upon a better way of ranking and we made a really great search engine, and Google was born. When a really great dream shows up, grab it!
When I was here at Michigan, I had actually been taught how to make dreams real! I know it sounds funny, but that is what I learned in a summer camp converted into a training program called Leadershape. Their slogan is to have a “healthy disregard for the impossible”. That program encouraged me to pursue a crazy idea at the time: I wanted to build a personal rapid transit system on campus to replace the buses. I still think a lot about transportation—you never loose a dream, it just incubates as a hobby. Many things people labor hard to do now, like cooking, cleaning, and driving will require much less human time in the future. That is, if we “have a healthy disregard for the impossible” and actually build the solutions.
I think it is often easier to make progress on mega-ambitious dreams. I know that sounds completely nuts. But, since no one else is crazy enough to do it, you’ll have little competition. The best people want to work on the big challenges. That is what happened with Google. Our mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible
and useful. How can that not get you excited? But we almost didn’t start Google, actually, because my co-founder Sergey and I were too worried about dropping out of the Ph.D. program. You are probably on the right track if you feel like a sidewalk worm during a rainstorm! That is about how we felt after we maxed out three credit cards buying hard disks off the back of a truck. That was actually the first hardware for Google. Parents and friends: more credit cards always help. What is the one sentence summary of how you change the world? Always work hard.
As a Ph.D. student, I actually had three projects I wanted to work on. Thank goodness my advisor said, “Why don’t you work on the web for a while?” Technology and especially the Internet can really help you be lazy. Lazy? What I mean is a group of three people can write software that then millions can use and enjoy. Can three people answer the phone a million times? Find theleverage
in the world, so you can be truly lazy!
Overall, I know it seems like the world is crumbling out there, but it is actually a great time in your life to get a little crazy, follow your curiosity, and be ambitious about it. Don’t give up on your dream. The world needs you all!
So here’s my final story:
On a day like today, you might feel exhilarated—like you’ve just been shot out of a cannon at the circus—and even invincible. Don’t ever forget that incredible feeling. But also: always remember that the moments we have with friends and family, the chances we have to do things that might make a big difference in the world, or even to make a small difference to the ones we love—all those wonderful chances that life gives us, life also takes away. It can happen fast, and a whole lot sooner than you think.
In late March 1996, soon after I had moved to Stanford for grad school, my Dad had difficulty breathing and drove to the hospital. Two months later, he died. I was completely devastated. Many years later, after a startup, after falling in love, and after so many of life’s adventures, I found myself thinking about my Dad.
If my Dad were alive today, the thing I think he would be most happy about is that Lucy and I have a baby in the hopper. If he were here today, well, it would be one of the best days of his life.
Many of us are fortunate enough to be here with family. Some of us have dear friends and family to go home to. Please keep them close and remember: They are what really matters in life.
Thanks, Mom; Thanks, Lucy.
And thank you, all, very much.