99th commencement weathers storm, Khan discusses empowerment
Published: Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, May 23, 2012 16:05
Despite the downpour the day before, Rice’s 99th commencement ceremony played out in the Academic Quad without a hitch on Saturday, May 12.
However, until 7 a.m. of that morning, the university was not even sure if they were going to have the event outdoors, according to Deputy Secretary to the Board of Trusteees Cynthia Wilson.
Wilson said she worked with electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Keith Cooper and a team of administrators to decide the final location of commencement.
“We start watching the weather two to three weeks early every year,” Wilson said. “This time, we knew the system was destabilizing more than usual, so we were up most of last night watching various weather channels.”
Wilson said the team spent a siginificant amount of time practicing their bad-weather plan. If inclement weather had forced the ceremony to happen indoors, faculty would have been excused from the event to open up more seats for family members. The team also set up multiple live-streaming locations.
“It is preferable to do commencement outside because we don’t want to make family members who have traveled for hours just watch the event on a TV,” Wilson said.
By 6:30 a.m. on Saturday, Wilson said the ground was still saturated but it was clear that the storm had passed, so Cooper decided to proceed as scheduled with an open-air ceremony.
Students, faculty, family members and staff packed into the Academic Quad to listen to commencement speaker Salman Khan, founder of the Khan Academy.
Khan advised students to empower others, be lifelong learners and keep everything in perspective.
“[Your] diploma is a powerful validation from one of the world’s truly great universities,” Khan said. “I want you to think about how you can leverage that validation to increase the positivity in the world and to empower others.”
Khan, who was ranked seventh on Fast Company’s list of “The 100 Most Creative People in Business 2011,” graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with degrees in mathematics and electrical engineering and computer science and obtained a Master of Business Administration degree from Harvard Business School, President David Leebron noted while introducing Khan.
Khan founded the Khan Academy in 2009 as a not-for-profit online education service that now operates through more than 3,200 tutorial videos on YouTube as well as interactive practice problems and assessments.
The videos cover subjects like K-12 mathematics, biology, physics, chemistry, history and economics.
Khan said that despite his background of success in school and in his previous job as an analyst for a hedge fund, when he first started the Khan Academy, he struggled with a variety of challenges. However, a generous donation from a Rice graduate gave him the encouragement and validation that he needed to succeed, he said.
Khan said he hoped Rice students would follow this example and empower others, even if only through small words of encouragement.
“Don’t just sit by and observe it,” Khan said. “Recognize it. When you see someone do something great, tell them about it. Tell their bosses about it. Tell their families about it. When you do that, all sorts of exciting things are going to start percolating into the universe.”
Khan also encouraged graduates to be lifelong learners. He recalled a terminal cancer patient who wrote him a letter saying her life dream had always been to learn calculus and that thanks to his program, she was using her last few months of life to do so. Khan said he hoped students would do the same and extend their learning beyond the practical.
“This is your time to ask the naive questions which you’ll later learn turn out to be the profound questions,” Khan said. “This is your chance to invest in yourself.”
Khan advised students to keep things in perspective. He said he thought all the graduates would be successful but reminded them not to get caught up in success.
“When your ego starts feeling a little bit large, keep in mind that the sun will supernova one day,” Khan said. “We are these small mammals on this small planet. Just have peace in the little successes.”
Brown College senior Sophie Bonifaz said she enjoyed Khan’s speech and thought it was funny. Bonifaz said she thought the idea of empowering others was appropriate for a graduation address.
“It was good to hear about empowerment,” Bonifaz said. “It’s a good reminder to help others so that our degrees are for the greater good and not just to make money.”