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MIT 2012 Commencement Address

Salman Khan gives commencement address at MIT (2012).

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Video transcript

It's now my honor to introduce our Commencement Day speaker, the founder of the online education phenomenon known as the Khan Academy, Sal Khan. Sal earned three degrees from MIT, a Bachelor's in mathematics, as well as a Bachelor's and a Master's degree in electrical engineering and computer science rounding out his education with a MBA from Harvard. Sal began his career as a hedge fund analyst. Within a few years, however, he discovered quite by accident what has become his calling. Through preparing video tutorials to help his young cousin learn math, he came to understand his own gifts as a teacher and a great gift that he can give to the world by creating an online library of 1000s of free bite-size videos that would shed light on any topic he chose from geometry to the GDP. Today, the Khan Academy channel on YouTube has more than 330,000 subscribers and has delivered more than 156,000,000 lessons and has for millions of students, replaced bafflement with understanding. For launching this revolutionary experiment in online learning, in the year 2012 Time Magazine named Sal Khan as one of the 100 most influential people on the planet. This is not the first time that Sal has spoken from the commencement stage here in Killian Court because he also served as president of his class. In 1998, addressing his fellow graduates, Sal said, "It is no exaggeration to say that we will change the world." Having checked this assignment off his to-do list, he joins us here today. Ladies and gentleman, Sal Khan. [Applause] Now this is a surreal, a deep honor to be here. For a whole set of reasons and as was introduced obviously MIT has played quite a big role in my own life. But I think a much deeper role than many of you all might appreciate. Some of you might remember the late nineties, kind of when the first internet boom was happening, there was a lot of talk about online education and most of the conversation back then about online education not too different than now, was around how to profit off it, how to make money off it. Or some institutions were thinking about how to defend against it, or at least sit on the sidelines and see how things played out Then all of a sudden MIT jumped into the mix in 2001, and announced MIT OpenCourseWare. That it was going to take knowledge and resources that used to be behind the walls of elite institutions and not charge for them but give them away for free to the world And instead of saying how can we profit off of this, MIT said "Well there are some things that are higher than that." That if we could empower an unlimited number of people for all of time maybe, that is something we would be willing to spend resources on. When that happened I was just a couple years out of college working at a tech company in San Francisco I had no idea that my own career adventure would lead to what I am doing now. But when I read that press release I had never been so inspired. I had never felt so proud to come from this community. And frankly a couple of years later, when the videos that I had made for my cousins and it became clear that people who were not my cousins started watching. There was talk of, oh well this could be a business. I was in Silicon Valley, this is what it was all about. I worked for a hedge fund, a very for profit organization. But it was the memory of how I felt the first time I read that press release about OpenCourseWare and what it had become, that really gave me the clarity to understand what Khan Academy could be. That it could be this institution that could reach everyone and should transcend ideas of profits and businesses. And I say this not just to show the connection this had for Khan Academy, but there is a meta level idea here that these days you hear a lot of universities and institutions talk about teaching ethics, teching morality and instilling that in classes and they tell you to read about it, but MIT actually did it. MIT actually lived by its actions. It actually put principle over profit and it is continuing to do it. Now with MITx now with EdX in concert with Harvard it is continuing to push the envelope. And I am just in awe, it feels like we are living in a science fiction book of what might happen in education in the next few years. But my connections to MIT go even deeper. Obviously I went here, but my wife also graduated from MIT class of 2001. The president of Khan Academy and chief operating officer, he was my roommate freshman year at Next House. Room 343 for the two or three of you who might have shared that room at some point. One of our board members went to MIT and his wife went to MIT. I am just starting. That is just a small sample of all of the people we know at MIT. But maybe even more surprisingly the fact that of the people we know from MIT now 90% of them are married to each other and any time you have this type of love come from one place I think one should introspect as romantic as the infinite corridor may be I have seen such extreme coupling here that I have often suspected that this whole place might just be a front for some type of DARPA funded breeding project. Someone knows what is going on up here. There are simpler explanations, and I think the most obvious one or at least the most clear to me is that the admissions office here at both the undergraduate and graduate level seems to have a somewhat unhealthy bias for only admitting extremely attractive people. You're welcome. I thought that would go over well. I think it goes even deeper than that. As long as I can remember, to any one who would listen to me, I have told people that MIT is the closest thing on this planet Earth to Hogwarts, to Harry Potter's wizarding school. That the ideas and the research and the science that percolates behind these walls, that's the closest thing to magic in the real world, and frankly to people outside of this campus looks like magic. The faculty we have here, these are the leading wizards of out time! The Dumbledore's and Mcgonagall's and I guess president Hawkfield you would be a Mcgonagall. The halls here they have secret passages and tunnels and around every corner there are strange and bizzare magical objects and creatures, some of whom may finish their thesis this decade. Maybe a few in the audience. When we're in Killian Court, it is almost a shrine. When you look at the names around us, you see Newton and Darwin and Galileo and Archimedes and these are the great wizards of history. And they remind us that we have inherited an ancient tradition, an ancient art, one that for much of history and even today to some degree has always been sometimes vilified or suppressed by forces of ignorance, but despite that, has always shone through and has been at least in my mind the prime cause of human advancement. The people who come here, the students who come here you! There are these young people from all over the world who are all off the charts in some special way for this kind of magic that goes on here. Some come from affluent rich educated families. Some of you come from poor families where you are the first to get a college degree. Some come from environments where their gifts were really celebrated. Some come from environments where most of their lives they have had to hide their passions, their gifts for fear of looking different. But they come here suspecting that this might be a place where they can spread their wings, where they can explore the world. They can finally look with clarity at the mysteries of the universe, the magic of everything that surrounds us and MIT delivers on that. It opens our minds to what is possible and even more uniquely it pushes us, and I do believe that MIT pushes us harder than probably any other institution in the world. But when you do that you take them to another level you take them to truly recognize what they are capable of and I think there is another side affect going to why there is so much love here. When you have people regardless of what they look like superficially, or where they come from, or what type of background they come from, but they all have that same core desire to understand the universe. They all have that same core desire to push humanity forward. And you bring them all together into a community like this and then you push them in a frankly very intense environment you cry together, you laugh together, you procrastinate together, you have sleepless nights together, you wander the halls together. It creates the deepest possible bond. It is like people who have fought in wars together. They have a shared experience that other people might not understand or even comprehend, and because of that, the rest of your life you will feel connected to other MIT people. You will want to be around them, and you will seek them out and if you are in kind of a mixed group of people and you hear someone who is not from MIT start talking about how impossible something is, how hard something is, or how difficult something is, you will seek out the other MIT person in the room and catch a glance and you will both share a little smirk. And while you are doing that smirk, if they are your preferred gender, you might see a certain twinkle in their eye and realize that you are irresistibly attracted to them. So coming here it really does feel like I have come to a family, a family that I am deeply connected to and, a family that I truly love. I hope to just give you some appreciation for the potential that you guys are about to leave with. And when I said that 14 years ago at my commencement it was kind of an idea on paper. But now I have seen what my peers in my class and above/below me have done. And it has really been nothing short of amazing. And with that I want to give you a sense of internal strength and happiness and not just because I care about you and I want you to be a happy person, but because I really do believe that for you to really reach your potential, you have to be centered and have a place to go. When things get a little bit tough and you should take all of this with a grain of salt. I am not a lot older than most of you. View me as your older brother or cousin or whatever and what I am about to say. These are things that I still try to live by, but I don't do. I am at least as imperfect as any of you guys. But there are things that when I am able to do I have found work quite well. The first is to just be as incredibly and maybe delusionally positive as possible. It is a very cynical place out there sometimes. And that cynicism will eat at your energy and will eat at your potential. To fight it, you should smile with every atom in your body. You should smile first thing in the morning. You should even force yourself. This is something I acutally do: If I am in a bad mood, I actually force a smile. It releases things in your brain. You should smile with your mouth, your eyes, your face, your body and evey living and non living thing that you see. You should recognize that the grass is greener on your side of the fence and even in the 1% chance that it is not. Just convincing yourself that it is greener will be a self fulfilling prophecy. If you find yourself in your life in an argument with someone whom you respect, whom you care deeply about, that is a time, and it is not an easy thing to do, but try to surrender your ego to the shared identity of the relationship that you have with that person. If possible, do the exact opposite of what your pride and ego tell you in the heat of a battle. If you have the strength to do it, right when you are about to try to get the last word and you are about to say that kind of vindictive or below the belt thing, just pause, don't do anything and try to just give them a super-mega-hug. Recognize that material loss or gain, we'll all have it. But when it happens, be upset a little bit or be happy a little bit but keep it all in perspective. They are all silly relative to the things that matter, your health, and your relationships. As much as possible try to make people feel that you are listening to them. And I have a secret here. The best way to make people feel that you are listening to them, is to listen to them. When you are stressed and there will be times of stress in your life, just look up at the night sky and imagine the scale of the universe, the age of the universe, the distance to the next star, the other sentient creatures on other M-class planets, who are also looking at the night sky, and think about that shared experience the civilizations that have come by, it will put your problems into a little bit of perspective. If you can take a walk through the woods, forget your name, your identity, your ambitions, and just for a little bit, for a moment realize what you are. Just another animal walking through the wood, just another mammal. Recognize that you are not quite sure why you are here, but you enjoy the ride and you love the mystery of everything that surrounds you, and you want to explore it more. As much as possible and this is something that is difficult and not something that I do anywhere near perfectly but I try, is try to build true empathy for everyone. And a thought experiment that I often do to get me into that frame of mind, and it is just a though experiment regardless of your actual spiritual beliefs. Imagine that time isn't a one way street. That you can go back and etc. etc. In your next life you could be reincarnated you could go back in time and be reincarnated as anyone. You literally, because of that, could be everybody in this room. And with that mental framework in place, imagine that in your next life you could be that person you could go back in time and be that person that you are having the conversation with right now. Maybe that you are arguing with right now or maybe the person that you are passing judgement on right now. And if that is the case, then in your next life you will have to put up with the current self righteous version of yourself. So I want to just bring it all together with another thought experiment that I like to do, that helps me focus where I want to put my energies. Imagine yourself in 50 years. You are in your early 70's. You are near the end of your career. Hey! Oh! Oh! Very good! [Laughter] We have a few models here if you have trouble visualizing that. But imagine at that stage you are on your couch in 2062 and you have just finished watching the state of the union holograph by president Kardashian and you start to reflect on your life. You start to think of all the success you have had all the career sucesses, family sucesses, the great memories that you have had. But then you also start to think about the things you wish you did just a little bit different. Your regrets, and I can imagine what they might be. You'll wish you spent more time with your children. You'll wish you had told your spouse that you loved them more frequently. You'll wish that you had spend more time and told your parents how much you appreciated them, before they passed away. And just while that is happening, a genie appears. And the genie says, "Well I have been listening in to your regrets." "You seem like a good person." "I am willing to give you a 2nd chance, If you are open to it." And so you say "sure". And the genie snaps his fingers and you blink your eyes and when you open your eyes you find yourself right there right where you are right now June 8th 2012, in Killian Court. Some crazy guy is giving a commencement speech. And you say, Oh my God, I am in my 20-something fit and pain free body again, I am around my peers again. The genie was serious. I have a second chance. I can have all the successes, all of the adventures I had the first time around, but now I can optimize things. Now when I see my classmates and I give them that hug at commencement, I can hug them a little bit harder. I can show them how much I care about them. Now that my parents are back, I can finally tell them how much I appreciate them. I can finally give them more hugs, more time. I can do everything that I can laugh more, I can sing more, I can dance more. I can be more of a source of positivity for people around me and empower more people. And so here I am truly honored to be your commencement speaker. Just in awe of the potential that is here, the potential in this time that we are in, a time when the revolutions, the positive revolutions, are not going to be caused by generals and politicians. They are going to be caused by innovators like you and in this time to see you the wizards of tomorrow. I am just excited by what you are going to do with your second pass. Thank You. [Applause]