Now, a lot of you – the vast majority – won’t find yourselves in tech at all. That’s as it should be. We need your minds at work far and wide, because our challenges are great, and they can’t be solved by any single industry.
No matter where you go, no matter what you do, I know you will be ambitious. You wouldn’t be here today if you weren’t. Match that ambition with humility – a humility of purpose.
That doesn’t mean being tamer, being smaller, being less in what you do. It’s the opposite, it’s about serving something greater. The author Madeleine L’Engle wrote, “Humility is throwing oneself away in complete concentration on something or someone else.”
In other words, whatever you do with your life, be a builder.
You don’t have to start from scratch to build something monumental. And, conversely, the best founders – the ones whose creations last and whose reputations grow rather than shrink with passing time – they spend most of their time building, piece by piece.
Builders are comfortable in the belief that their life’s work will one day be bigger than them – bigger than any one person. They’re mindful that its effects will span generations. That’s not an accident. In a way, it’s the whole point.
In a few days we will mark the 50th anniversary of the riots at Stonewall.
When the patrons of the Stonewall Inn showed up that night – people of all races, gay and transgender, young and old – they had no idea what history had in store for them. It would have seemed foolish to dream it.
When the door was busted open by police, it was not the knock of opportunity or the call of destiny. It was just another instance of the world telling them that they ought to feel worthless for being different.
But the group gathered there felt something strengthen in them. A conviction that they deserved something better than the shadows, and better than oblivion.
And if it wasn’t going to be given, then they were going to have to build it themselves.
I was 8 years old and a thousand miles away when Stonewall happened. There were no news alerts, no way for photos to go viral, no mechanism for a kid on the Gulf Coast to hear these unlikely heroes tell their stories.
Greenwich Village may as well have been a different planet, though I can tell you that the slurs and hatreds were the same.
What I would not know, for a long time, was what I owed to a group of people I never knew in a place I’d never been.
Yet I will never stop being grateful for what they had the courage to build.
Graduates, being a builder is about believing that you cannot possibly be the greatest cause on this Earth, because you aren’t built to last. It’s about making peace with the fact that you won’t be there for the end of the story.