SECRETARY BLINKEN: Elegance of 2023, congratulations! You made it. You were given out.
I need to say a different thank you proper from the begin to Zaria Redhead. Wasn’t she odd? (Applause.)
However each and every of you – each and every of you – has survived one of the vital rigorous educational techniques in the world. You’ve persevered hikes up Freshman Hill. You might have powered via all-nighters, with, as I’ve already heard, slightly assist from Waffle Space.
You’ll by no means once more need to put on a rat cap – except you need to.
Now, as The united states’s leader diplomat, a key a part of my process is making an attempt to get to the bottom of the arena’s maximum intractable conflicts in puts like Georgia. Yellow Jackets or Bulldogs? Atlanta or Athens?
And glance, to be a relied on go-between in conflicts like those, you’ll be able to’t select a facet, even if – deep down – you recognize that one is correct.
However skilled diplomats know the way to ship the sophisticated alerts that allow other folks know the place they stand.
And so, esteemed graduates, I ask you: What’s the great phrase?
AUDIENCE: To hell with Georgia.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: So this morning’s rite were given Tech legend Harrison Butker, whose box targets have two times gained the Lombardi trophy for the Chiefs.
You were given caught with the fellow whose closing trophy got here in adolescence football for “participation.” (Laughter.)
So, I need to make it as much as you. Because of this I’m proud to announce that, nowadays, I’m nominating one in every of Tech’s personal – famend physicist, cellist, social media influencer, George P. Burdell – as The united states’s subsequent ambassador to France. He’s earned it. (Applause.)
Now, to get all the way down to industry. Earlier than we get to the place you’re headed, let’s simply take a second to replicate on the place you’ve come from, or higher stated, who you’ve come from. The folk, as you heard the president say, who helped get you to this present day, who all the time believed in you, even while you had been a ramblin’ ruin; the individuals who put their heads down with the intention to raise yours up: mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, grandparents, highest buddies.
Lots of them are right here nowadays cheering you on, and those that can’t be, are a part of who you’re.
That is their day, too. So let’s give them large spherical of applause. (Applause.)
Elegance of 2023, I’ve to let you know I take note nearly not anything about what the graduation speaker stated at my school commencement. No longer as it used to be a horrible speech – it wasn’t – or as it used to be a very long time in the past – it used to be – however as a result of my thoughts used to be in different places. And I believe that can be the case for lots of, if no longer maximum, of you nowadays.
Commencement is a kind of moments when your previous, your provide, your long term all appear to be converging without delay. You are feeling, rightly, immensely pleased with what you’ve completed – and, on the similar time, possibly slightly bit worried and even outright terrified about what you’ll do subsequent. It’s a time when the query of who you’re – and who you’ll transform – looms massive.
I will let you know from revel in: It’s a query you’ll most probably be grappling with future years.
So I assumed probably the most helpful factor that I may do nowadays is to proportion a couple of guidelines from my very own revel in about how one can navigate the sessions of uncertainty that lie forward.
First, get pleased with what you don’t know.
20 years in the past, I used to be employed because the workforce director for the Senate International Family members Committee. A large a part of that process used to be fielding questions from senators, particularly the chairman of the committee – a man named Joe Biden – like how a lot support we’d given a international nation during the last decade, or how lengthy judges served on their excellent court docket.
A large number of the time, I didn’t have the solution.
Now, while you get requested a query you don’t know – particularly by means of your boss – it’s simple to really feel like everybody will notice you’re an impostor. You may well be tempted to wing it – to faux it ’til you’re making it.
Don’t do it. Memorize this resolution as an alternative: “I don’t know, however I’ll in finding out.”
I nonetheless use this line, together with in Cupboard conferences with my boss, who’s now President Biden.
Right here’s why: If you happen to give your boss unhealthy knowledge since you’re too embarrassed to confess that you just don’t know, you’re on the best way to dropping their self assurance.
It’s getting the fitting resolution that issues, despite the fact that it takes a while to search out it.
That’s necessary while you’re the only in price, too, as a result of acknowledging that there are issues that you just don’t know alerts on your group that they are able to even be truthful with you.
And it’s additionally ok to not have the solutions to the massive questions like what you’re going to do along with your existence. Everybody struggles with the ones.
Now, you almost certainly wouldn’t know that from other folks’s Instagram or LinkedIn accounts, the place everybody appears to be crushing it. However take note, those are roughly just like the real-world variations of George P. Burdell – they’re spotlight reels with the hardest portions edited out.
You by no means know what’s happening in somebody else’s existence, so err at the aspect of grace. And don’t evaluate their outsides on your insides. Focal point by yourself adventure. Be affected person with your self – you’ll get there. You simply might simply wish to wander slightly bit first.
Wandering is how Buckminster Fuller – one in every of our country’s biggest innovators – discovered his manner.
He used to be born in 1898[i]. He failed out of Harvard – two times. He joined the Military; he began a circle of relatives. He had a a success development corporate. Then his international unraveled. He misplaced his three-year-old daughter to a horrible sickness; quickly after that, he misplaced his process. Broke, unhappy, depressed, he regarded as two paths: both he would take his personal existence, or he would totally devote himself to serving humanity.
Bucky selected existence, however he had no concept the place to direct his new sense of objective. He spent two years carefully watching the arena round him, pushed by means of the realization that nature’s patterns would train him how one can use generation to give a boost to other folks’s lives.
His first discovery used to be impressed by means of the triangular buildings of spider webs and the branches of bushes, which ended in his realization that the right mix of hysteria and compression may make gentle, versatile buildings extremely sturdy.
He referred to as the main “tensegrity,” and designed a complete house in accordance with it, whose light-weight portions may are compatible right into a unmarried delivery container. It used to be Bucky’s resolution to reasonably priced and sustainable housing, and when Fortune Mag put his prototype on its duvet, he won 30,000 unsolicited provides.
Bucky led a wildly prolific existence. He earned 25[ii] patents in the entirety from cartography to automobile design, all excited about serving humanity. To this present day, his designs are throughout us.
I used to be in Montreal just lately, and we had a the city corridor on the U.S. pavilion from the 1967 Global Expo – a geodesic dome that’s over 20 tales top. Bucky designed it. And the mace that Vice Provost Jacobs carried when main you out onto the sphere nowadays – its design is in accordance with Bucky’s concept of tensegrity.
So get pleased with no longer having solutions. The seek for them will lead on your maximum necessary discoveries.
2nd, know what you do know – the foundations that information you – it doesn’t matter what adjustments round you.
Jimmy Carter, in fact, spent one in every of his undergraduate years right here at Tech, and he later stated that the one manner he may “get out” used to be by means of getting elected president after which choosing up an honorary level. He had an exquisite pronouncing for our core ideals, which got here from his highschool trainer: “We should alter to converting instances and nonetheless grasp [to} unchanging principles.”
That’s true for individuals; it’s true for nations.
As President Biden often says, we’re at an inflection point, when we face defining questions about the future we want and how to get there, including when it comes to technology. The unprecedented leaps in AI and biotech and quantum computing and other fields that you’ve studied are already having a profound effect on the lives that we live, how we live, how we learn, how we work.
It can be difficult to keep up, no matter what field you’re working in. At the State Department, I’ve realized that I need scientists and technologists in the room just to tell me whether I need scientists and technologists in the room.
But as developments in recent years have made clear, technology – like any other field – is not inherently good or bad.
This fundamental truth is baked into Georgia Tech’s mission statement, which commits this institution “to develop leaders who advance technology and improve the human condition.” In other words, whether technology makes our societies more or less equitable, whether it promotes or represses human rights, whether it brings us together or drives us apart, that will come down in no small part to what you do.
That’s the story of Joy Buolamwini, Tech class of 2012. From the moment she started building websites in high school, she knew that she wanted to use her programming skills to serve other people. But Joy spent almost all her time coding, and little time talking to the people who were using what she made.
That changed during her junior year at Tech, when she went to Ethiopia to help the Carter Center build an app to track neglected diseases. That experience pushed Joy to get out into communities where she could interact with people who were using the technology that she was designing. And that contact raised questions, questions she hadn’t grappled with before – like how seemingly minor choices in language could make people feel excluded, or how to engage people in designing the tools that were intended to serve them.
Joy found a cardinal direction on her internal compass: Always – always – see the people behind the code.
Years later, she was designing an app that could superimpose the faces of other people – like one of her heroes, tennis legend Serena Williams – on top of her own. But the software Joy was using couldn’t detect her face. It only worked if she covered her skin, which was black, with a white mask.
She tried out other facial recognition programs – same result.
So she peeled back the code and found the problem: The programs were trained on databases made up mostly of the faces of white men. The result was an algorithm that literally – literally – couldn’t see Joy or many other black women.
But Joy refused to stay unseen. She took the brave step of calling out the facial recognition software made by big tech companies and the harms that algorithms could cause. She published research; she wrote op-eds; she testified before Congress; she created museum exhibits. She convinced companies to sign onto a pledge limiting their use of facial recognition software, and formed a group of coders to fight for greater equity and accountability in the AI that she continues leads to this day.
So like Joy, each of you will have to find points on your compass.
Let me share one of my own, which has a lot in common with Joy’s: Never lose sight of the people – the real people – on the other side of your decisions.
A great journalist from many years ago, Edward R. Murrow, once told a group of American diplomats that the most crucial connection in international relations is made in the last three feet, by one person talking to another.
The more layers there are between us and the people whose lives are affected by our actions – whether those layers are screens or miles or ideological bubbles – the easier it is to stop seeing the connections that we can only make in those last three feet, and the easier it is to start seeing people as numbers or statistics – the other – rather than as fellow human beings.
Around the dinner table, when I was growing up, I heard a lot about our country as a beacon of hope. My grandfather came to the United States after fleeing pogroms in Russia. My stepmom found refuge here after fleeing the communist regime in Hungary. And my stepdad was rescued by American GIs after enduring the horrors of the Holocaust.
So to this day, when I meet with refugees – whether they’re Ukrainians uprooted by Russia’s brutal invasion, or Nicaraguans who escaped their country’s repressive regime, or the Syrian and Afghan employees that I met earlier today working here in Atlanta at the Refuge Coffee Shop, I see my own family in their shoes.
These meetings are also a chance to hear directly from the men, the women, the children whose fates are too often decided without their voices – in air-conditioned conference rooms, in policy memos, in spreadsheets.
Now, some people believe that when it comes to shaping our policies, empathy clouds our judgment rather than clarifies it, and that if we want to advance the interests of the American people, we have to worry less about the hardships and injustices faced by people beyond our borders.
I’ve never seen it that way. In fact, when I look at the programs that continue to make our country a beacon of hope – and strengthen our standing in the world – they almost always are ones where we’ve remembered to see ourselves in others.
Programs like the President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief, PEPFAR, which has saved more than 25 million lives and counting in the 20 years since President George W. Bush created it. Programs like the international exchanges that have fostered ties between generations of students, professors, leaders from the United States and other countries – including President Cabrera – and I’m so delighted that the Fulbright program can take responsibility and credit for you being here, not to mention your marriage. Programs like our sustained efforts to promote the human rights of women and girls and LGBTQI people around the globe.
It’s up close, in those last three feet – that’s where we remember that the true measure of any policy – or any app, or any start-up, or any organization, anything else that we do – is the tangible difference it makes in the lives of our fellow human beings.
Third and finally, always be open to rethinking the things that you thought you knew.
That includes the path you’re on. It’s never too late to change course.
That’s what happened to me. I went to law school after college and then headed to a big firm. The job checked a lot of boxes. I had brilliant colleagues, intellectually rigorous work. The salary wasn’t bad, either. But my heart just wasn’t in it. So one year, ten months, two weeks, three days, and five hours after I started, I quit.
Some of my best friends while I was in law school were film students, and a few of them had recently started a production company. So when I left, they asked me if I wanted to join them, and I said yes.
I loved movies, and the idea of being part of building something from the ground up was incredibly exciting.
We produced a handful of films – including one about a brooding student-turned-vampire – no, not Twilight – and we put on a film festival in New York. But most of the creativity was coming from the writers, the directors, the actors – not me. Collaborating with them made clear they had gifts that I did not.
And as much as I love movies, I was looking out at a world that was changing quickly, and I was feeling the pull to be a part of it. Apartheid was coming to an end in South Africa. The Soviet Union had collapsed. The people of newly independent nations were finding their own way. There were peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, a growing ethnic conflict in the Balkans.
I wanted to get involved; I just didn’t know how.
Then I caught a break. Someone that I’d worked for years earlier told me about an opening for an assistant job at the State Department. I applied – and I got it.
Now, it was a pretty junior position. My first office – well, let me put it this way. The previous occupant of my first office was a very large safe, so that gives you some idea about what the office was like – basically, a windowless closet.
But from day one, I was hooked. Diplomacy felt urgent, challenging, directly connected to improving people’s lives. It was a way to serve my country, which I badly wanted to do. I felt grateful every morning walking into work. I still do.
Now, I’m biased, but I think you might feel the same way. So I hope that some of you will consider putting your skills toward public service – maybe even toward making our foreign policy better – for the good of Americans, for the good of people around the world. We need your help.
In my case, it took a few tries, but I found my place.
And I learned something important along the way: I had to be open to starting over. When things didn’t turn out the way I hoped, I had to change my experience, not my expectations.
Long before he was President, Jimmy Carter was a young dad with three small kids and a promising career in the Navy’s nuclear submarine program. One day he got a call that his father, Earl, who was sick with cancer, was dying.
Jimmy drove from his base in New York to Plains, Georgia – a town of around 600 people where he’d grown up.
Now, Earl Carter, his dad, cast a big shadow in Plains, and Jimmy had worked hard to get out from under that shadow. But there was something about reflecting on his dad’s life during that visit that planted a question in Jimmy. Not only was the family peanut farm one of the town’s biggest employers, but Earl was a church deacon, a leader in the Elks club. He served on the local school and hospital boards. When kids in Plains couldn’t afford clothes for graduation, the teachers told Earl and he donated them, anonymously.
If the family business went under, Jimmy knew the town would go with it.
Seeing the community that his dad had worked so hard to build made Jimmy wonder whether it made sense and what it would be like if he tried something similar.
After Earl died, Jimmy struggled with whether he should move his family back to Plains. And on paper, it made no sense. The family business was deep in debt, and he knew little about farming or running a business. He had a bright future ahead in the Navy. But he went back anyway.
His superiors thought he was crazy. His wife, Rosalynn, was so mad she refused to talk to him except through their kids. The first year, the farm earned $280.
But Jimmy found something different in Plains – something that he’d been missing for years that he hadn’t been able to put his finger on: a sense of community. And as he and Rosalynn turned the business around, he threw himself into local service: getting involved in the Lions Club, the Boy Scouts, the school, hospital, and library boards, in his church. Then he decided to run for a state senate seat, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Class of 2023, you have a mantra here at Georgia Tech: “We can do that.”
And it rings true for so many of our shared hopes and ambitions – far beyond this campus.
But I would humbly suggest, as Zaria also suggested, that the most important in “We can do that” is not “do” but “we.”
We can do that – whether that “we” is a family, a campus, a city, a country, or the world.
That’s certainly true today. Think about your experience. Look around. No one gets out by doing it alone. You got out because you did it together.
And I’m confident that as you reflect back on how you made it to this day, behind everything you’ve done and everything you’re proud of, there is a “we.”
It’s the one constant in navigating all the uncertainty that you’ll face – whether that’s getting through the times when you don’t have the answers, or figuring out the principles that will anchor you in life, or keeping yourself open to rethinking the things that you thought you knew – you must always, always be guided by people you love and trust.
And so, esteemed graduates, don’t forget: The key to navigating all uncertainty is never trying to do it alone.
Find your “we” – and there’s absolutely nothing you cannot do.
Thank you, and congratulations!