Google CEO urges Class of 2009 to seize every opportunity

· May 26, 2009, 8:22 pm   ·  Updated May 15, 2009, 12:00 am

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"When the name of your company becomes a verb, you know you've done something special," said Interim Provost Vincent Price during his introduction of the 2009 commencement speaker this morning on Franklin Field. "That's market penetration."

In an event marked by pop culture references, laughs from the audience and heartfelt moments, Google CEO Eric Schmidt led the 2009 commencement ceremony with a speech geared toward guiding new graduates in the current economic environment.

Schmidt described the "profound technological revolution" of the past century, from the 1946 debut of ENIAC - the world's first electronic computer, created at Penn - to the current age of Facebook and YouTube.

"Back in those days, we got our news from newspapers," Schmidt said to chuckles from the crowd. "Remember them?"

Now, he said, everyone can get access to all the world's information almost immediately from the web. Rather than trying to hide our embarrassing moments from the world, he said, we record them and put them online.

"I'm looking forward to watching these videos for the next 30 or 40 years," Schmidt said.

The web is society's "great equalizer," Schmidt said, calling it a record of size and quality unparalleled in human history. It is "life-changing, life-saving, life-fundamental," he added.

Now, a traveler in a foreign land can get the proper care because his medical records can be automatically translated, Schmidt said. People can use their cell phones for almost everything, and one can upload fifteen hours of YouTube videos in just one minute.

Yet, "despite all these marvels, this is a great time to be graduating," he continued, adding that the tough economic times and changing world present new graduates with bountiful opportunities.

He also advised students to seize every opportunity they can, to make mistakes and learn from them, and to live for the future.

"Don't bother to have a plan. Instead, let's have some luck," he said. "You can't plan innovation or inspiration, but you can be ready for it." In his final question to the audience, Schmidt took on a more serious tone.

"What is in fact the meaning of life?" He posed.

In order to answer that question, he said, each individual will have to turn off their computers. When they do, he told the graduates, they will find that people are connected by more than just technology - that people the world over care about the same things, and that compassion is contagious.

"A mind set in its ways is a life waste," he said, urging students to meet the future with an open mind, even if it means turning off their cell phones. "Don't do it!"

In accordance with Schmidt's recommendation, Penn President Amy Gutmann set the tone for the day with her own advice.

"You won't find the road less traveled on any roadmap," she told the crowd, just before her speech blew to the back of the stage in the wind.

Gutmann quickly retrieved her notes and, laughing, said, "We recover from our mistakes."

"In all seriousness," she concluded. "Seize this moment as the consummate opportunity to pursue what matters most in life. I urge you to start now, because now will never come again."

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