Khan Academy and beyond
Salman Khan at Rice University's 2012 commencement Rice commencement speaker Salman Khan's address to the graduates focused on contributions of a different kind: He urged the students to do everything they can to "increase the net happiness in the world."Khan is the founder of the Khan Academy, a free online education platform and not-for-profit organization that has made waves in the field of education. In 2004, Khan's online tutorials for a young cousin gained a wider audience, and five years later he turned his collection of free educational videos into the online Khan Academy. Today, his more than 3,200 online tutorials attract 6 million viewers every month, and Time magazine recently named him one of the world's 100 most influential people.For more: http://news.rice.edu/2012/05/12/khan-urges-graduates-to-increase-the-positivity-in-the-world/
Salman Khan at Rice University's 2012 commencement
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- Ladies and Gentleman, please join me in welcoming the commencement speaker for
- our 99th commencement exercises, Salman Khan. [APPLAUSE]
- It's really an honor, a surreal honor, to be here. What I hope to do, 'cause, to a large degree, I --
- maybe, 35 might seem a lot older, but from my perspective, I don't feel a lot older
- than many of y'all in the audience. I kind of feel like a bit of an older brother to you.
- What I want to do is just share some thoughts, ideas, guiding principles that I have in my own adventure.
- They're a work in progress. Take them with a grain of salt.
- Hopefully, they'll help you in some way as you go on -- as you are about to embark on your own adventures.
- In a few minutes you are going to get a diploma. And it's a powerful thing.
- Obviously, things brought you to Rice -- your intelligence, your creativity, your hard work.
- But what that diploma is going to be is validation, a very powerful validation,
- from one of the world's truly great universities. And when you have that, really neat things
- are going to start happening in your life. You're going to go places.
- You're going to get the interview. Your resumé is going to go to the top of the stack.
- People are going to give you responsibility. They're going to give you the benefit of the doubt.
- The first thing I really want to kind of think together about is how you can leverage that validation that you're
- about to get to kind of increase the positivity in the world, the net happiness in the world, to help --
- hopefully empower others. And I personally believe that it'll probably come back to you.
- And I say this from the point of view of someone who's been directly empowered by Rice graduates,
- frankly, in a way that, frankly, all of what you just heard might not have happened had a few
- Rice graduates not stepped out of the woodwork.
- in 2009 -- and you heard a little bit of the narrative of the Khan Academy -- it started from my cousins
- -- 2009, tens of thousands of people started using it. It was pretty obvious that most of them were not my cousins.
- I was fairly kind of intoxicated by what was happening. I was getting thank you letters from around the world.
- I sat down with my wife, and we had a little bit of savings.
- In the introduction, it said I was the hedge-fund manager. I want to clarify. I was the hedge fund analyst.
- It's two different economic strata. But it was a good career. I was doing well.
- And there was the potential of, one day, becoming the manager.
- But I, frankly, had trouble focusing on my day job. And so, I sat down with my wife. And we had a little bit of savings.
- And I said, "Hey, someone should -- It's a not for profit.
- There's a potential here to do civilization-scale education. We can educate people for all of time.
- There's almost an infinite social return on investment here. Surely, someone's going to realize that this is worth funding.
- And I kind of took that fairly naive point of view and quit my job and started working full time on the Khan Academy.
- And like a lot of these stories happen, nine months into it, I had a lot of meetings and nothing quite had happened.
- Frankly, when you hear a bio and you're on these lists, you think "Oh, it must have just been this very smooth ride."
- But, nine months into it, I actually hit something of a low point.
- We just had our first -- I was 32 years old. Our son had just been born.
- We had dug about thirty or forty thousand dollars into our savings, which was really for
- a down payment for a house we hadn't bought yet.
- And, like a lot of you guys, I had been this person --
- good grades my whole life, kind of a fast track career and all that.
- And all of a sudden I had done something that was a risk. And I knew that people kind of said, "Well, you know,
- what's going on? Has Sal flaked out?"
- I started becoming a little bit paranoid -- ("Have I failed my family?) --
- that we were on track to have a comfortable life and now, maybe it's all gone."
- Frankly, the only thing that kept me going was small acts of validation --
- letters from people around the world saying, "Hey, this really helped.
- I got an 'A' on my algebra exam." Or, "This is the reason I was able to go back to college,"
- or whatever else.
- But then all of a sudden, really, when I was almost at the lowest point, and I was frankly about to give up,
- I got the biggest act of validation -- or one in a series, really.
- I had a little link on the web site where people were donating five [or] ten dollars, and then
- all of a sudden a ten thousand dollar donation comes in. And it was from someone named Ann Doerr,
- who I later learned is Rice class of 1975.
- And I immediately emailed her back, I was like, "Well, thank you very much. This is the largest donation
- that the Khan Academy has ever received. If we were a physical school, you would
- now have a building named after you."
- (Which I think is somewhat less than what it goes for over here. I don't know what the, what the a -- )
- But she said -- She was in Northern California.
- And she said, "Well, we should have lunch. I want to learn more about what you're doing."
- And we had lunch at an Indian buffet restaurant in downtown Palo Alto.
- And she says, "What's your vision here?"
- I said, "Well, I want to keep making videos for the rest of my life.
- We can have other faculty members. We can translate it into the world's languages.
- We can have interactive software, feedback. We can have ways for us to connect students in
- the world so that they can help each other. Really, a world class education for
- anyone anywhere -- for free."
- And she says "Well, you know, it's a very grand ambition. But I've seen what you've already done."
- (I had about 900 videos at that point.)
- "And I really think there's a potential here. But I have a question:
- 'How are you supporting yourself?'"
- And in kind of as proud a way as possible, I said, "I'm not."
- And she kind of nodded; and we went on our way. She got back on her bicycle.
- I got in my car. I went home.
- And right when I was going into the driveway, already excited, not expecting much more --
- I'd had a hundred meetings like that. And not much had come of it.
- She had already proved to be the biggest supporter of the Khan Academy.
- Right when I'm coming into my driveway, I get a text message from Ann.
- And it reads, "You really need to be supporting yourself, I've just wired you a hundred thousand dollars."
- So it was a good day. (And I almost crashed into the garage.)
- And I say that -- Obviously, the money was a big deal --
- based on the situation I was in and the family was in -- But the real power of what Ann did was that act of
- empowerment -- that act of validation. That act that [said] she really believed in what I was doing.
- And I know, sometimes when I tell this story, in the back of people's mind, [they] say,
- "Well you know, she was in a position to do that.
- I'm not in a position to give someone a hundred thousand dollars."
- But, one, I want to highlight that I had meetings with probably fifty other folks
- who were in even a better position to do it.
- But it was really -- they were waiting for something else to happen.
- They were saying, "Well this guy's operating out of a closet.
- I don't know what to make of it. It sounds like a good idea [but] -- ."
- And because of that kind of stalling, the idea might have [come] to nothing.
- It might have not existed. And it really took a special type of person to step out there.
- And the other thing I want to point out is, yes, if you are in a position [to do] what Ann did,
- that's unbelievable, and that's an unbelievable power to have in your life.
- But, I personally believe, and now, especially, now that I'm getting [into] more of a position to –
- not to do what Ann did but to -- empower other people -- .
- I want to highlight that this is something that you can do in your own way tonight.
- You can validate others -- empower others -- increase the net happiness -- the positivity in the world.
- I mean, it can be as simple as: your family's going to have dinner tonight.
- And you go to a restaurant tonight and you see someone do something great.
- And too often, we kind of just sit back and say, "Oh, that was good, that was good service."
- Maybe you give an extra tip.
- You're at work or you see a colleague who goes above and beyond, and you say,
- "Oh, that was pretty good -- they did a nice thing."
- And what I hope -- and this is something that I tell myself all the time is,
- "Don't just sit by and observe it. Recognize it!
- When you see someone do something great, tell them about it.
- Tell their bosses about it. Tell their family about it."
- And when you do that, all sorts of neat, exciting things are going to start percolating into the universe.
- Obviously, you are going to make that person's day. You're going to make their year.
- You might make their career. I've seen it happen before.
- You probably, in some way, will make their life.
- Even more, they're going to start doing that ultra-positive thing more.
- People around them are going to see the recognition they got for it,
- And they are going to start emulating it.
- And even though it wasn't your intent -- you just wanted to highlight
- something good that's happening in the world -- people will recognize that you are
- a source of positivity. And when you are a source of positivity,
- people will just naturally gravitate to you.
- The other, the second idea I want to share with you -- (And once again, all of these are works in progress.)
- is the idea of kind of being a life-long learner.
- Something I want to stress as much as possible Given the phase that you're about to enter --
- You know, the next ten years are your chance to ask the naive questions
- that you will later learn are really the profound questions
- The ones that are really going to be the game changers --
- Your chance to really invest in yourself --
- One thing that I have kind of a unique vantage point at the Khan Acadamy,
- is that we see all of these lifelong learners, and how much it's changing their own views on life
- And, you know, early on, in 2008, I had a -- when the financial crisis hit -- I started making videos
- it was my background -- I started making videos on the Federal Reserve,
- and credit default swaps, and mortgage-backed securities. And I got a letter from a -- I got all sorts of, you know --
- "This was really helpful. I understand what's happening in the news."
- But I got one particularly powerful letter.
- It was a gentleman who worked at – I will say -- an unnamed investment bank.
- And he says, "Thank you for that video on mortgage- backed securities. I now know what I do for a living."
- Which is, I guess, that's more of a scary story than a good one.
- But it goes to the extreme.
- It's not just something that's going to affect you in a practical way -- forward your career.
- Probably --- We get all sorts of amazing letters and testimonials from people around the world.
- Still, the one that resonates in my brain the most --
- And it really is this testament to lifelong learning. And it really is a testament that it goes beyond the practical.
- It goes beyond what you might make use of.
- I got a letter, also in 2008, a terminal cancer patient -- she had two months to live.
- And she said -- and it blew my mind – "I have -- I've got two months."
- And she said it in a shockingly positive tone.
- And she said, "But my life's dream was to learn calculus, and Khan Academy
- has given [me] that, and I look forward to spending the last two months of my life learning it.
- And when I saw that, it changed my own perspective It made me excited to be a learner for as
- long as I have the privilege of being around.
- The last idea I want to share with you is really just kind of "keep things in perspective."
- I know we all say it. But, it really – you just have to keep reinforcing it.
- Everyone in this audience -- knock on wood -- you're going to do just fine.
- You're going to have your four-bedroom house You're going to have your car with the power windows.
- You'll be able to go to Sea World whenever you want to. But along that way, there are going to be ups and downs.
- And actually, those ups and downs tend to happen a lot when you go to transition points.
- When you are entering the work force, you're entering some type of new phase in your life.
- And you just always have to keep [focused] on the long-term game -- the end game. And I'll tell you myself --
- I've gone through some fairly dramatic ones right when I was out [of] the gate. When I was --
- This is 1998. I had just graduated.
- I was a few months older than most of y'all.
- And some computer magazine had seen something I had done. And they wrote this neat profile about me.
- They called it "Future So Bright." And I saw that magazine, and I was very proud of it.
- I said, "Look, I'm set. I have this career ahead of me. I'm already profiled in a magazine."
- And frankly, I got kind of into myself. And that's OK. You can enjoy your successes.
- But I really didn't have any perspective. And frankly, it was a dangerous thing to happen.
- And to really put things in perspective -- and I'm happy it did happen --
- Two months later I had kind of switched jobs -- higher salary -- I thought I was on the fast track.
- And I had a new boss.
- And on the first three days of work, he spent an hour just completely castigating me—
- Essentially telling me that I was not worth his time.
- That I was incompetent, as far as he was concerned. And so you can imagine,
- [here I'd had] success my whole life -- fancy degrees from fancy universities --
- Two months ago, I was profiled in a magazine. And then now, all of a sudden,
- not even twenty-three years old, I was back in a hotel room, in the middle of nowhere -- crying;
- not knowing what I was going to do with my life -- convinced that it was all the end of everything, that all --
- that everthing was for naught. And so, you get through them.
- You wake up in the morning. Things look a little bit better A week later, things look a little better.
- You start circulating your resumé around. I did find another job two months later.
- And it's OK. And the one thing I want to stress –
- (Because I've gone through ups and downs; and you only have one perspective for your own life.)
- -- but I suspect many of you all are going to have higher ups than I've had, and many of
- you all are going to have lower downs.
- And I worry about that sometimes.
- The ones of you who have higher ups, just keep them in perspective. And it's inevitable --
- Some of you are going to race ahead and be so successful that none of us can imagine it right now.
- But keep them in perspective. Enjoy the successes.
- But when your ego starts feeling a little bit large, keep in mind the sun will supernova one day,
- the galaxies will collide.
- We are just these small little mammals on this small planet.
- There's a hundred, two-hundred million stars in the galaxy -- in just our galaxy alone.
- And just have peace in the little success[es]. And when you have a hard time --
- and you will -- those of you who will go through painful periods.
- You might stumble and start your first few times out [of] the gate.
- Also keep in perspective that those stresses – put them in perspective of the universe – they are small.
- They are going to be things that you’ll be able to laugh about, talk about,
- ten, fifteen years from now – or hopefully ten, fifteen days from now.
- And so to bring it all together, I want to give you a little thought experiment
- that I actually use for myself all the time when I am faced with a tough decision,
- or I want to think about, "How do I approach my life?" And so, imagine yourself 50 years in the future.
- You're in your early seventies. You're hanging out at home.
- You've just watched the state of the union hologram by President Bieber.
- And right after that, you start reflecting on your life.
- And you first think about all of the successes you've had.
- You had a very good career – you were able to provide for your family –
- you had amazing friendships -- And I'll tell you, (right?)
- I can guarantee you, 50 years from now, you will keep reflecting
- about the friendships that you made here.
- You will keep thinking about this campus. And you'll reflect on them. You'll smile about it.
- You'll think about your children, you'll think about the bonds you've made –
- the contributions you've made to the world.
- But, you'll also think about things you'll wish you had done just a little bit better.
- Maybe. Call them “regrets,” if you want.
- We'll all have them. I have a sense of what those regrets might be.
- They'll be, "Well, I did alright; but I wish that I had spent more time with my children.
- I wish that I told my spouse that I loved them more frequently.
- I wish that I spread more positivity, I empowered more people,
- I validated more people. I smiled more often;
- I laughed more often.
- I wish that I had a chance to spend more time and hug and tell my parents
- how much I love them before they passed.
- And right when you start having those regrets, a genie pops up and says, "You seem like a good person.
- You’ve done a lot in your life. But I've been eaves dropping on your regrets,
- and they seem like valid ones.
- So I'm going to give you a second chance." And you say, "Well, sure."
- And so the genie snaps his fingers, and brings you back right over here --
- brings you back to Rice University, May 2012
- And says, "This is your second chance. You can do all of the successes
- that you had in your first pass. But this is your chance to optimize.
- This is your chance to laugh a little bit more, your chance to spread a little bit more positivity,
- to spread a little bit more positivity, a chance to really tell the people who matter to you
- just how much you love them, before, frankly, it's too late.
- And so here I am - truly honored and humbled to be here –
- just completely excited by what you all are going to do in your second pass.
- Thank you. [APPLAUSE]
- English subtitles by Mike Ridgway (khaniverse.blogspot.com)
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