The ceremony saw participation from former US President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama, Korean pop group BTS, singers Beyonce and Lady Gaga, former Defense Secretary Robert M Gates, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and activist Malala Yousafzai.
“I don’t think this is the graduation ceremony any of you imagined. At a time when you should be celebrating all the knowledge you’ve gained, you may be grieving what you’ve lost: the moves you planned, the jobs you earned, and the experiences you were looking forward to. In bleak moments like these, it can be difficult to find hope,” Pichai said.
He further said: “Be open, be impatient, be hopeful. If you can do that, history will remember the Class of 2020 not for what you lost, but for what you changed. You have the chance to change everything. I am optimistic you will”.
Pichai sought to assure the students that classes at various points in time have had to overcome challenges – whether it was the class of 1920 that graduated into the end of a deadly pandemic or the class of 1970 that graduated in the midst of the Vietnam War, and even the class of 2001 that graduated a few months before the 9/11 attack in the US.
“…and in all cases, they prevailed. The long arc of history tells us we have every reason to be hopeful. So, be hopeful,” he said. Pichai pointed to how generations often underestimate the potential of the following one.
“It’s because they don’t realise that the progress of one generation becomes the foundational premise for the next. And, it takes a new set of people to come along and realise all the possibilities,” he explained. Pichai drew comparisons between how he had grown up without much access to technology, and children nowadays growing up with computers of all shapes and sizes.
“There are probably things about technology that frustrate you and make you impatient. Don’t lose that impatience. It will create the next technology revolution and enable you to build things my generation could never dream of. You may be just as frustrated by my generation’s approach to climate change, or education. Be impatient. It will create the progress the world needs,” he said. He exuded confidence that the youngsters will make the world better in their own ways.
“The important thing is to be open-minded so you can find what you love… So take the time to find the thing that excites you more than anything else in the world. Not the thing your parents want you to do. Or the thing that all your friends are doing. Or that society expects of you,” he said. He spoke of his early years in the US, and the challenges he faced in those years.
“My father spent the equivalent of a year’s salary on my plane ticket to the US so I could attend Stanford. It was my first time ever on a plane,” Pichai said adding that a bright spot for him during that time was computing.
“The only thing that got me from here to there-other than luck-was a deep passion for technology, and an open mind,” he noted.