Nobel Laureate to UA Graduates: Chase Your Dreams

Uploaded by Arizona on 14.05.2012

Getting asked to do a commencement that’s one of the big speeches you can give as a
human being so being able to come back to the University of Arizona was sort of one
of those things where I didn’t even think about saying yes, I was just going to say
yes. So, you know, giving a commencement speech is hard. It’s, you know, what do you say?
You’re trying to provide some sort of insight to the way life’s going to be in the future
for people who come from hugely different backgrounds. So, I’m just going to sort
of tell them as best of the things that I’ve encountered in life and we’ll see how it
Just over half my life ago, in 1989, I was here at the University of Arizona, sweating
in my black gown in 107 degree heat, attending the undergraduate commencement ceremony.
So my decision to come to the University of Arizona was primarily due to its astronomy
department. I wanted to do astronomy and it had a very good program. I wanted to stay
in the Western United States so its was really, for me, the place to go based on the work
that was being done here at that time. Coming from Alaska and suddenly using these huge
telescopes where we could go through and take pictures looking back billions of years into
the Universe’s past I think that was a real special thing to be able to be part of something
so cutting edge and sort of beyond what I ever expected when I started at University.
So it is my job this evening to talk about your future.
We live in a time of great change and the degree that you are receiving and the knowledge
and skills that go with it, are the best insurance you can have for the future.
We cannot know the future and this uncertainty leads many of us to sell our future short.
Conservatism makes us unwilling to take on all the possibilities that the world presents.
My central message to you this evening - Be willing to chase your dreams.
I didn’t know what I wanted to do so I said I’ll do astronomy. I’ll come to the University
of Arizona. Astronomy isn’t very practical. I’m never going to get a job in it, so I’ll
do it, get trained up in physics and math and computer programming and the future will
take care of itself. So, I just didn’t worry about the future. I said this is what I want
to do now and I just assumed I was not going to be an astronomer, but you know life’s
that way. You go fourth you try things sometimes things work out for you, but if they don’t
turn out exactly as you expect it’s ok. When you get a good education really there
is a lot of things you can do in life. I always knew I was going to have something I could
do in the future.
Now when I say chase your dreams, I do not mean, Damn the Torpedoes, Full Speed ahead”.
Any worthwhile aspiration includes the risk of failure. All plans need to have a plan-b
associated with it – an acceptable place to land where you can regroup and figure out
where to go next.
And this is where your degree is a bonus. Many people have the misguided view that an
advanced degree limits your future - that if you, for example, have a thesis on Bose-Einstein
condensates, it means that it is the only thing you can study, or if you have received
an M.D., you must be a doctor, or that your musical arts degree means you must work in
But understanding that your degree gives you a huge amount of freedom is incredibly liberating–
no matter what you want to do in life. For me, it meant I was willing to move overseas
to a place where my wife and I could both get interesting jobs and put all my efforts
into a large but risky project that I was passionate about.
But I always knew I had a plan-b which was afforded to me by the broad range of skills
I received as part of my studies. That plan was to get a boring job, which would pay the
bills while I figured out something else I found inspiring to do. Knowing that outcome
was the worst case for me meant I could chase the expanding Universe without distraction
while not having to worrying if things didn’t work out.
it was not making the discovery itself, it was not receiving a prize, it was the journey
that stands out in my mind.
And so I hope there is a lesson in this for everyone. Happiness lies not in achieving
your dreams, but rather in chasing them.
Congratulations graduates – Chase your dreams. Be Happy and you will do great things.