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Apple Executive Kevin Lynch Speaks at UIC's Mid-year Commencement

Thank you Dean Nelson for your kind introduction. Chancellor Amiridis, members of the University of Illinois Chicago faculty and staff, delighted family members and friends, welcome to you all — and congratulations to the magnificent UIC graduating class!



I very much appreciate your including me here in your ceremony tonight, it is such an honor. I have to say I never expected to attend University graduation from up here! I was a student on campus 30 years ago, and I’ve had quite a few adventures since. I didn't quite finish my degree,which I do believe Dean Nelson and the Chancellor knew about before they invited me to speak.

I’m a son of the Chicago area, an Irish American growing up in Riverdale and then south ofChicago in the middle of cornfields. Like many of you, I was among the first of my extended family to go to college, and while I was attending UIC I was also working. During the day I was taking classes, and evenings and weekends I was working at a software start up, and also part time in the Electronic Visualization Lab here.

I've been reflecting a lot on what I might talk about with you today and what advice I might possibly give you. My first piece of advice is: when preparing a commencement address beware of watching the greatest speeches in the history of commencements. I cannot write like J.K.Rowling, nor do I have the delivery of Steve Jobs. I almost didn't recover from that.

It did lead me to the first of three things I’d like to share with you: bravery.

Now there's certainly the extreme kind of bravery like the three americans showed in taking down a gunman on a train in France, or landing a failed plane safely in the Hudson River. There is a quieter type of bravery that I’m referring to here, which is the bravery to speak your mind and effect change. Change in the world, change in your life, change in your work.

This type of bravery made this very school happen. Richard Daly brought tremendous bravery in turning Chicago around in the 1950s, and in the 1960s turned the dream into reality of providing the advantages of a great state university here in Chicago. This was done in a very tough political climate, and here we are now in the midst of one of the top public research universities in the country, situated in an incredibly vibrant city. He brought a “can-do” mindset, and made no little plans. He was also an Irishman from the south side of Chicago I might add.

I saw this quieter bravery when I was quite young, from my parents. I am very proud to have my parents here tonight with us. Growing up, my family saved enough money to build our own house down south of Chicago — this was in the 1970s, — which we then sold and built another,doing this three times. Building these houses as a kid, I would see my dad design the house at night at the kitchen table, and he would take input from us. He worked as an electrician, my mother worked at an accounting office. He would bring in his friends in to help, we all worked together to make them happen. You can change reality -- your thoughts and ideas can take form, and in our case we could live in them. Don't take the world just as it is.

In my work, the best of times have been the bravest of times, certainly not the easiest. Forging into the unknown with a blank piece of paper, growing faster than you ever imagined, or facing a crisis or experiencing failure. Getting through all of these requires bravery and faith in yourself.

I’ve been through a number of challenging situations. One of these was getting into a disagreement several years ago with Steve before I was with Apple — it was not easy and I didn’t win the argument, but something surprising happened. Steve got to know me better and asked me to work with him. I felt I couldn’t join at the time, but he left the door open. Later, he tragically passed away. I couldn’t stop thinking of our conversations and am so happy I did joinApple, and have been giving my all since.

I did this with a leap of faith, not knowing exactly what we would build, but that I’d be working with the truly amazing team at Apple. My first day I learned the mission was to create the AppleWatch, and that we had a lot of work to do. It has been a series of incredible engineering and design challenges since.

I am now doing some of the most fulfilling work in my career, and this would not be the case without bravery, stepping forward into the unknown.

You are embarking on your own adventures now as you head into the unknown. Even after years of experience you will still wonder — can I do this? Will it work? Are we doomed? Be brave and persistent. If you have something in your mind, speak up and take action. Someday perhaps then it will be you up here braving through the commencement speech of 2045.—Next is imagination. Without great imagination, bravery will likely not lead you anywhere interesting. It is the foundation of my work and can help you in all of your endeavors.

I look at this as a sort of applied imagination — it’s the art of what should be, and the science of what can be. It is both human and technical. It’s emotional and logical. There’s a creative tension between these that causes new ideas to appear.

At Apple this is called the intersection of technology and the liberal arts. This is an incredibly powerful combination because technology needs to be human in order to be useful to humans.

For me early on this was — and still is — fueled by a voracious appetite for science fiction and imaginary worlds. Writers like Madeleine L’Engle, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov. I found the greatest power of applying my imagination as soon as I started getting access to computers in high school. I was amazed how quickly you could turn fictional ideas into reality with software.

Here at UIC is where I first learned the creative power of Art + Science. Working in theElectronic Visualization Lab, I experienced engineers and artists working together, literally sitting at the same lab benches. We’d be developing graphics software, and artists would be using it to make art — and imagine new features right there.

UIC is one of the top schools in the country in terms of diversity, which looking back on this I realize how much it influenced me. The more diversity of people in terms of culture, race,gender and experience, the more open minded you can become, the more points of view you can get, and the more insights you will have.

Give yourself permission to be imaginative. Don’t get stuck in the structure of how things have always been done. Keep asking questions. Listen. Think. Don’t be too logical. Stay playful.

Sometimes your imagination may lead you to do things ahead of their time or down what seem like strange paths. Don’t hold yourself back. By the act of trying, you will learn, and that experience will stay with you and make you more prepared for your next challenges. It brings you wisdom.—Imagination enables empathy: to put yourself in someone else’s place and to understand. This brings me to the final item, which is so easily overlooked: kindness.

As we’ve become more profoundly connected through technology, kindness can become more challenging as our relationships can become more abstract, more diffuse, with a larger number of others. These connections can also be incredibly powerful if we remember these are humans and maintain our ability to be kind in our interactions.

This is happening across disciplines. In elementary schools, it is being taught as “social emotional learning” — this became part of the Illinois learning standard about 10 years ago. In business, teams are learning more about “emotional intelligence” in working with others. For medical doctors, this is becoming known as “clinical empathy”.

Particularly in stressful or high risk situations, I've found kindness helps you create incredibly productive and creative environments. Acting in a kind manner reduces fear, anxiety and lack of trust. This doesn't mean lack of conflict or directness — it's the very opposite — it enables people to speak the truth as they see it, and have meaningful debate. By not reacting to problems with anger and fury, you enable a culture of experimentation and open communication. This is key to learning and innovation.

Kindness helps you with new ideas, which are typically gentle wispy things and so easily crushed. It takes strength to choose to give thoughts space and time to grow. It is most often a process of nurturing and cajoling an idea along.

This sympathy, empathy, cooperation and collaboration is core to what makes us human, and has enabled us to succeed together.

What you will remember most over time, more than details of what you did, is how you felt andhow you made others feel. How you think and act shapes who you are. You can choose how to respond, how to think. Choose kindness over coldness and you will reap love, fellowship and loyalty, and the results of your efforts will be the better for it.

I see bravery, imagination and kindness as some of the core attributes of humanity.

In the 30 years since I walked this campus, there has been tremendous change. When I was here, people didn’t walk around with phones, there was no Web, no Google, no Facebook. Most people didn’t think they actually needed a computer, beyond hobbyists. The internet was largely for academia. Communication speeds were 9600 bits per second (about 10,000 times faster today), processing speeds were a few megahertz (today’s Mac is about 3,000 times faster than the first one), and hard disk storage was a few megabytes (which would hold just one selfie today). Tech geeks were just barely entering the mainstream, other than in “The Revenge of the Nerds” or Matthew Broderick in “War Games”.

In the next 30 years you will likely experience more technological change than we’ve seen in the past 150 years. That time included inventions such as mass production, the telephone,phonograph, light bulb, telegraph, and the zipper.

You are in for an amazing life adventure ahead, in your own careers and in the world around you. You will see computing devices exceed the processing capability of the human brain.Everyone in the world will have access to a high speed internet connection, even in the remotest places. Healthcare will be transformed. Medicines will be customized to you.Education will be transformed. You will spend a lot of time in Virtual Reality. Food will be healthier. Cash will disappear. Voting will become digital. Drones will deliver your packages.Programming will become a core subject in education. Nanotechnology will change production.Food will be 3D printed for you. Your cars will drive you. You will wear a supercomputer. I don’t know if you will see the Cubs win the World Series.

During this adventure ahead, I encourage you to bring your humanity to the fore as we will be limited only by our braveness, imagination, and ability to work together.

Bring great purpose and human values to everything you do. Be brave. Be imaginative. Be kind.Change the world for the better.

Thank you and best wishes!

-- kgorton - 2015-12-11

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Topic revision: r3 - 2015-12-19 - 00:03:00 - Main.tmatthes
 
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