Like It Is

Strive for excellence

A couple of weeks ago I was asked to give a speech at the graduation of iAcademy, a school at the forefront of bringing young students into sophisticated levels of IT competency.

Here’s what I said, as I think it can be of interest to you, or, more likely, your children:


You know, you’re all sitting here waiting for me to congratulate you. Tell you what a great job you’ve done, and how proud you parents must be. That now, having graduated from one of the finest—no, the finest—IT college in the Philippines, the world is your oyster. I have to say it’s the finest, don’t I? I’m on the board, or they might fire me.

And there’s a first lesson: Please your bosses—unless it’s me. The last thing I accept is sycophants. You don’t do a better job, don’t run a better business, if your underlings just agree with you. You have to know what’s wrong so you can fix it. You have to argue with others toward the best solution. So ignore that first recommendation (I just argued myself out of it). Do not agree with your boss, but make it clear it’s for the same goal—greater success of the company. But be careful. Philippine society doesn’t like it. “The boss is always right” is ingrained in the culture.


Incidentally, why an oyster? I haven’t googled it, but memory and logic seem to say that opening an oyster is very difficult, but once opened, the result is delicious. So you’ve opened the oyster, the world is now a delicious place for you to make of it what you will.

You expect me to say: Go out there and work hard and you’ll succeed. Find a partner, settle down, have kids. So they can have kids and you can eventually die in happy retirement with loving grandchildren around you. Well, I’m not going to say it—even if I just did.

Because you don’t want all that patronizing copperplate. It’s form, not substance. And life is all about substance. You can wear the smartest clothes (my wife ensures I do), but that’s not me. Clothes indeed do not make the man (which doesn’t mean I think you should all be sitting there naked—although it’s an intriguing image). What is “me”? It isn’t someone plagued with doubt, unsure of where to go, what to do, wondering if people really like me or are just pretending to, doubtful of my future, or if I even have one. Every young person goes through that, some even take it into later life. You’ve already proven you’re none of this, you’ve proven you can succeed.

You can meander through life, or you can challenge it. Want to be president of the Philippines someday? Why not? Someone has to be. But, believe me, that’s not what you want. Forget being a politician, you’re better than that. But make a difference, do something more than just survive life.

You didn’t come to iAcademy to become a politician. You came to iAcademy to enter into the most exciting era the world has ever seen. And to enter into the heart of it—IT—where it’s all happening. I came from a generation where we thought Apple and Blackberry were fruits. Where clouds were where God lived, or, more realistically, where rain came from.

In my lifetime we’ve gone from black and white TV in a wooden box that was deeper that its width to TVs that are an inch thick, in color and 3D. And the size of the bedroom. We’ve gone from vacuum tubes to transistors to chips (do you know that on one chip today there can be a billion transistors—and nanotechnology is just starting that will reduce it all to a pinhead).

We aren’t at the end of a revolution, we aren’t at the middle of revolution, we’re at the beginning. You ain’t seen nothing yet. That revolution is where you are, where you’re beginning. I think what I’ll regret most is I won’t see what’s yet to come. But you will, you’ll be part of it, you’ll help create it. Nothing can be more exciting.


And here’s an important point: Don’t aim to get rich, get driven by what you want to do. You should love your work, get satisfaction out of it for itself. Not the paycheck on Friday.

My daughter is an environmental scientist. She’ll never make any real money, but enough to live comfortably. But she’s doing a good job she loves, and she’s trying to produce a cleaner, better world. What can be more worthwhile than that? Incidentally, don’t you think there’s something wrong with a world where someone who wants to save it is unrewarded, while the financial whiz kids who rip us off and destroy huge sections of the world’s financial systems can’t carry the bag with their pay in it?

Take risks. Life is indeed a lottery, and one you’ll never know where it’s going to take you. I was an electronics research engineer when I started. Today I give speeches and write reports. And love the intellectual challenge. If you have natural talent, develop it and use it. If you are driven by something you’d love to do, do it. Put everything you’ve got into it. The world’s Olympic champions are there because their whole life, their whole day, is dedicated to being the best, to striving to be excellent—at just one thing. That’s where success lies—by going the extra mile. Others go home at 5, you don’t. You strive to do more. There’s no success in 9 to 5.

Life is not about relaxing over coffee at Starbucks (what an overrated place that is) with friends, it’s about achievements. Everyone can sit and drink coffee, not everyone can rise to the top.

You want a fulfilling life, one you bounce out of bed in the morning to partake of. That’s achieved by doing what you’re good at, that you enjoy and do well. And doing it.

A final thought: At the end of life you don’t regret the things you’ve done, you regret what you didn’t do.

Take the risks, strive for excellence. That you’re sitting here graduating proves: You can do it.

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TAGS: computers, education, environmental scientist, graduation, graduation speech, iAcademy, inspirational speech, IT competency, Technology
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