Below is the prepared text of the Commencement address by Salman Khan ’98, MEng ‘98, founder of the Khan Academy, for MIT’s 146th Commencement held June 8, 2012.s.
On a similar vain, inertia, pride or fear should never be the reason why you close your mind to opportunity.
Most of my own life, I thought I had to choose between a safe route and the adventurous. When I was your age, I was a bit skeptical of speeches like this. I thought, sure, the guy at the podium can talk about changing the world, but what about my student loans, what about my family that has worked so hard to get me here. What about all the people who pursued their dreams and failed? Wouldn’t it be selfish of me to give up the secure path for the long shot at the audacious?
I can’t say this to any group of young people, but for those of you graduating today, I believe that you can have both: security and adventure. Bread on the table while taking your shots at the moon.
We’re at a unique point in history. Where what once required many people spending many years and many millions can now be done by a small group of inspired people from a dorm room, or in my case, a bedroom closet. Ideas can be proven before they need to be committed to. The revolutions of our generation — in business, education, social structure and even politics — are not being catalyzed by generals or politicians, but by highly empowered individuals like yourselves — the wizards of our time so speak — who can see with clarity how the assumptions of previous generations no longer apply. And the revolutions often grow out of nothing more than an intense hobby, an inspired attempt of seeing if things can be rethought a little better.
So go forth with your careers, but leave space for your passions. Remember that you are much, much more than a title or a bank account. You are dancers and poets, inventors and athletes, musicians and innovators. If you give your passions room to breathe, you might find that is all they need to help you move the dial forward for everyone.
And this isn’t just a commencement speaker trying to make you feel good or take weight off your shoulders. This is another member of your species who knows how badly the world needs you. Who knows that MIT graduates, like a tall person who learns to slouch to not stand out, sometimes undersell who they are, even to themselves. I am, in fact, putting weight on your shoulders because I know how scarce and important a resource you are.
So with all that said, let me leave you with a thought experiment I use to help keep my priorities in check.
Imagine yourself in 50 years. You’re in your early 70s, near the end of your career. You’re sitting on your couch, having just watched the State of the Union holographic address by President Kardashian.
You begin to ponder your life. The career successes, how you’ve been able to provide for your family. You’ll think of all the great moments with your family and friends. But then you start to think about all of the things you wished you had done just a little differently, your regrets. I can guess at what they might be.
Sitting in 2062, you wish that you had spent more time with your children. That you had told your spouse how much you loved them more frequently. That you could have even one more chance to hug your parents and tell them how much you appreciate them before they passed. That you could have smiled more, laughed more, danced more and created more. That you better used the gifts you were given to empower others and make the world better.
Just as you’re thinking this, a genie appears from nowhere and says, “I have been eavesdropping on your regrets. They are valid ones. I can tell you are a good person so I am willing to give you a second chance if you really want one.” You say “Sure” and the genie snaps his fingers.
All of a sudden you find yourself right where you are sitting today. It is June 8, 2012, at Killian Court. You are in your shockingly fit and pain-free 20-something body and begin to realize that it has really happened. You really do have the chance to do it over again. To have the same career successes and deep relationships. But, now you can optimize. You can laugh more, dance more and love more. Your parents are here again so it is your chance to love them like you wished you had done the first time. You can be the source of positivity that you wished you had been the first time around.
So now I stand here, once again deeply honored to be here. Excited by what you, the MIT class of 2012 — both undergrads and graduate students — the young wizards of our time — a time like no other in human history — will do with your second chance.