Commencement Address (Patrick Pichette, CFO of Google and Parent '10, '12, and '13)
Parents, members of the staff of Holderness, Bishop Robinson, members of the Board of Trustees, students, and friends, my notes today are addressed specifically to the Class of 2011. And because Commencement speeches are typically quite boring, I thought I would spice it up a little by organizing mine in an unconventional way. It therefore has three sections:
- A cheesy section – a framework for balance as you go through your next few years;
- A tacky section – an agenda for action over the next five years;
- A wacky section – some context for the world you are inheriting, and some opportunities ahead for you.The Cheesy Topic – A Framework for Balance
I have no guarantee of happiness for you, but know you stand a much better chance of achieving it through balance. This is among the biggest challenges I hear about. Everywhere, and especially among the younger generation. Even at Google. And often people ask me, "Patrick how do you do it? How can you stay in balance?"
You are going to live between three poles: yourself, your family and close friends, and your community. In my experience, I have found that unless you find some balance in the combination of these three poles, it will be very difficult to find happiness. You have to invest in them all, in varying degrees at different times, but never losing sight of the three. In that triangle, you will find balance.
Obviously, work and the pursuit of your passions provide opportunities for self –realization and growth, and feed many of the options for the "gives-and-takes" of your family (mostly) and community. Although the "self" is also much more than work, I wish to warn you not to kid yourself – if you want a life driven by impact, work will be a big piece of it.
Most of the people I know who are quite happy have found some equilibrium between these three poles. And sometimes you need to invest more in one than another (for example, when you work to become partner in a law firm, or care for a family member who is sick or handicapped), but in the end, you have to get back to balance. Otherwise, in my experience, people "out of balance" tend to look for compensation in strange or unhealthy ways.
What do I mean by out of balance?
First, you get out of balance by focusing too much on yourself. We all know about Ebenezer Scrooge (or today's version, Donald Trump). Interestingly, the empty pursuit of money and materialism most often serves to deepen one's isolation. As Shrek reflected upon his arrival at the Dragon's castle, "Do you think he's compensating for something?"
Second, you get out of balance by focusing too much on your family. Here we can point to the famous mid-life crisis of parents who have "given everything to their children." Having under-invested in themselves, they end up succumbing to a deep feeling of emptiness once their children leave. This is the feeling that the Rolling Stones talk about in their song, "Mother's Little Helper." Check it out.
Finally, you get out of balance by focusing too much on community. Some may argue that a life fully devoted to civic duty and devotion to community and country is the noblest pursuit. But once again, let me argue that community work that is done out of balance with the other two poles of self and family may one day lead you astray. Hence the quote, "I cheated on my wife, because I love America too much..."?
So you see, balance is tricky. It is a very personal thing. Each person must learn where their center of balance is. You need to look for the hints. It's a constant tension between pushing to learn and grow, and pausing to enjoy and re-center.
This takes practice, but I encourage you to look for your balance. Take hints from the outside, but mostly listen inside, and please, please, do not lie to yourself. Don't pretend. The sooner you find it, the better life gets, and the sooner you can get into high gear and fulfill your potential.The Tacky Topic - Agenda for the Coming Years
This is about your abilities, aspirations, but mostly about experimentation.
What better way to find your balance than through experimentation? This is the part of my story where I need to tell you how lucky you are. You now have a huge opportunity ahead of you. You have been given a fantastic asset – a great education. A Holderness education.
In this context, allow me a few words about the Class of 2011. And juniors, please duly note where the bar has been set for you!
Parents of the Class of 2011, let the following stand for the record:
- This is the class that led the entire school to deliver a stunning, crushing, epic victory in what some say to be the only day that really counts at Holderness calendar: Tabor Day 2010.
- Congratulations to the young men on the varsity soccer team (many of whom were "borrowed" from the hockey team), who won the New England Championships against Millbrook, an opponent with two strikers from Ghana!
- This is the class that has taken pride in every week requesting and earning 11 PM Friday night check-in all year, demonstrating that change can happen when earned fair and square.
- This is indeed the class that will not pass judgment, but in fact look the other way, when Mr. Barton answers every random question with a nonchalant "Ask Coach Nadeau!"
- And finally, this is the class that raised close to $5,000 this year to buy airplane tickets for Imoh Silas's parents in Nigeria. This to make sure that he could proudly graduate in the presence of his parents, after not seeing them for three full years!
This ladies and gentlemen, please give a great round of applause to the Class of 2011. And you, Class of 2011, your adventure is only beginning. You have proven through your actions that you have what it takes!
And the next five to seven years are going to be even more important than the last.
In short, over the next few years, you will set the adult options for the rest of your life. And unlike Holderness, there will be less structure around you. You now have to decide what kind of life you want to lead. And I have some good news:
- The good news is that you have plenty of time.
- The good news is you don't have to know exactly what you want to do now.
- The good news is that, if like me when I was your age, you don't know exactly what you want to do, you can pursue many options.
- The good news is that the more you experiment, the more you will know what you like and don't like, and in doing so, get to know yourself better in that famous quest for balance.
Who you are really matters. It matters more than you think. There is someone sleeping in you and that you are going to get to know over the coming years. The more you experiment, the more you increase your chances of finding the real you – the one you like, the one who will find his or her natural tribe in the world.
And when people tell you that you have to decide now, or else you will be left behind, let me beg to differ, and give you my track record from 18 to 25:
- At 18, I graduated from a relatively low-standard high school (Polyvalente Henri-Bourassa (Montreal-Nord) having focused mostly in math and science.
- From age 18-20, I attended Collège d'Enseignement Général et Professionne (CEGEP), focused on fine arts and communications and studying Botticelli, El Greco, and Roman and Gothic architecture.
- From age 20-21, I took part in Katimavik, Canada's youth volunteer-service program, where I spent nine months doing community work across Canada for a dollar a day.
- From age 21-22, I planted trees and got involved in logging across Canada.
- From age 22-25, I went back to CEGEP to redo all necessary math classes to get into business school. I became an undergrad at L'Université du Québec à Montréal.
- Unknowingly, through this experimentation, I built myself a résumé that would win me a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford.
- From age 25-27, I attended Oxford PPE, and you know the rest of the story.
I have two tips as you begin your journey of experimentation.
First, I want to tell you probably the biggest secret in the world: everyone is insecure. Some more, some less, but everyone is insecure about something. Everyone. Even Donald Trump. Even Julius Cesar, Churchill, Gandhi. All insecure. By the way, most of the CEOs I have had the pleasure to work with have been the most insecure people you will ever meet.
Said another way, and if you think about it, Ferris Bueller is a complete myth. Perhaps that's why we like the movie so much.
Everyone's insecure about something. So there! Relax. And don't let it stop you. I am like you. Full of hopes, but with my fill of insecurities as well. And if I can start from Montréal-Nord and end up with my track record, just imagine what you can do! What you will do?
Second, do not underestimate the power of mentors. Mentors are simply critical to the pace of your development. Look for mentors not only now, but for the rest of your life. I still have mentors, and always will. Mentors don't judge you, but have a passion for you. They invest in you asking nothing in return; they take you under their wing. Listen to them. They will change your life. So look out for them.
So go out there and experiment. Try. Fail (yes, please fail once or twice to know you have really pushed. Now is the time!). Learn to adapt, see the signs, pick what you like, discard the rest, and learn to be happy with who you are.The Wacky Topic – What You Are Getting Into, and Your Role
You are entering adulthood at a fantastic time. My generation is bequeathing to you the following positive forces in the world.
First, a more globally open and connected world, and the death of distance. Marco Polo took over three years to travel from Venice to the palace of the Great Khan. Today the world is immediate. Within hours I am in Beijing, and once in Beijing, connecting back to Holderness takes less than a second with Gmail-video. And you all have Google, Wikipedia, Facebook, etc. to stay connected at all times. This connected world supports a freedom of expression so necessary to support our values and institutions, such as representative democracies, and all those sorts of things.
Second, the world has never been as safe and as affordable as it is today. Today, you can fly from New York to Paris and return for $750. And when you land, you know you don't have to worry about your safety. This is simply a huge accomplishments, and a huge "asset" for your generation to use to fuel progress, support the exchange of ideas, build stronger international communities, support better, more efficient commerce, and so much more.
Finally, although it is too early to tell (and I mean this very seriously), the ideas of the Enlightenment seem to be gaining ground. We are still in the early days of the triumph of the Enlightenment (which is only a few centuries old really), but already, it has delivered great riches to humanity. The Enlightenment is built on a fundamental sense of optimism in the human capability to understand the world in which we live. It represents a shift from dogmas (beliefs not tested and resting on either some upgrades to myths, or narrow interpretation of traditional scriptures) to empiricism (trusting facts, testing hypotheses with rigor, and keeping an open mind) as the root of searching for truth.
The three shameful acts of my generation, issues that we leave to you to solve, include the following.
First, is global warming and the evil results of - amongst many factors - cars, suburbs, and wasteful consumerism. We embrace the need for two tons of steel in order to move 140 pounds of flesh. Surely we can do better than that! The American dream is cherished all over the world. Yet, that dream is reeking havoc in our environment, and given what we know now, it simply makes no sense. We need new solutions, and maturity from all involved – most of all from the West, which needs to lead and change its habits. Something you can lead.
Second, we are witnessing the destruction of the planet's biodiversity – through over-population, the destruction of habitat, and overfishing of our oceans. If you believe the scientists' assertions (and I think the empirical evidence is quite compelling), we are as a species creating the third largest biodiversity extinction in the history of the planet. My generation is simply unable to see the planet as one eco-system, one family. You have a chance to do so.
Third, there is a dramatic polarization of politics going on, combined and influenced by an increasingly romantic view of years past. Today, the media and the political rhetoric naturally gravitate towards the extremes (e.g., Fox News, thankfully balanced by Colbert, I guess). This creates ill-will, the natural tendency to view issues in terms of us and them, good guys (by definition us!), and bad guys (whoever is not us, or with us!). This tendency is gaining strength in many areas of the world. You need to keep up the vigil on this one!
So you see; your leadership is sorely needed.
Working at Google, our average age is around 30 years old, people slightly older than you. And my conclusion, having rubbed elbows with the youth of today, is quite simple: you are so much better than we ever were, or will be. Do not let anyone convince you of anything else! And now you see why I am optimistic.
In conclusion, a quick recap.
First, remember that it's all about balance around three pillars: yourself, your family, and your community. Find your balance, and invest in the right mix at the right time.
Second, I hope you understand why now is your unique window to experiment, try, fail, learn, and set yourself up for a life of impact, filled with rewarding accomplishments.
Finally, we are leaving you a world with great assets, but also huge challenges. And it is yours to shape and lead. And to this end, never forget Gandalf's word to Frodo in the mines of Moria. He explains to Frodo that we do not decide the times that are given to us. He goes on to say, "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us."
Class of 2011, go for it!