Speeches & Writings

2019 December Recognition

Good morning! For those of you visiting campus, welcome to Washington University in St. Louis, and thank you for being here. I’m thrilled to see such tremendous support for our graduating students.

Whether you’re a parent, guardian, a close family member, friend, or colleague — each of you has played an important role in supporting our students and joining alongside them as they take this important step in their educational journey. We are extremely grateful and honored that you’re here to help celebrate their accomplishments.

And to our graduating students, congratulations! This is a culminating moment for you, and I’m delighted that you will soon join our global network of alumni who have helped establish our legacy of distinction in education, research, and patient care and who are leading the way in their industries and fields. As soon-to-be graduates, your WashU chapter doesn’t end here. In fact, in many ways it’s just beginning as you continue the university’s tradition of distinction. I look forward to seeing how you’ll use the education, skills, tools, and values you gained during your time here as you carry them with you into the world.

Speaking of our world — the one in which we currently live is certainly “interesting.” And please indulge me for a minute as I attempt to paint a picture of what I mean when I say… “interesting.”

As you know, Google is a powerful tool that has completely transformed the way we conduct basic research and consume information. In return, our Google searches have the potential to say a lot about us, both individually and as a society. That concept made me particularly curious, and so I looked up the most Googled phrases in 2018. Here were some of the most “interesting” ones I found:

For phrases starting with the word “is,” two of the most Googled questions are: “Is water wet?” and “Is Europe a country?”

Starting with the word “where,” we inquired things like “Where is my refund?” and “Where am I?”

On the top Google search list, I also found questions like “Who is Marshmello?” and “Who are the judges on the Voice?” Beats me!

Another one: “When is the next mega million draw?”

And finally, two of my personal favorites were “Does he like me?” and “Does she like me?”

Indeed, we live in an “interesting” time. It’s a time where pop culture and an obsession with fame, popularity, romance, and money seem to rule the roost.

It’s also a challenging time. We struggle with political polarization, climate change, malnutrition, crime, major public health crises, and more.

Yet, we also live in a time of immense change, hope, and promise. If I merely shared with you this side of the Google search picture…well then I’d be a really terrible data scientist only interested in providing a highly-skewed and biased view of the world!

In actuality, while these were some of the most Googled phrases in 2018, there were also other ones like:

How do I register to vote? And, subsequently, where do I vote on election day?

Is Mercury retrograde?

Is bronchitis contagious?

When should you use a semicolon?

What qualities make a strong job candidate?

And finally, why is education important?

These are the types of searches that continue to give me hope in a world that — at times — feels void of such. In our communities, across our nation, and around the world, people are asking questions. Yes…we’re asking some “interesting” and dare I say really sophomoric questions. But, we’re also asking questions that help us gain a better understanding of our world, our universe, our health and well-being, our role as citizens, and our desire to improve ourselves and our society.

As part of our human nature, we are inquisitive, constantly looking for ways to progress and evolve. And that’s the real reason why we’re here today. While we know that Google can be quite helpful for basic searches, it’s the complicated ones that require much more from us — especially here at Washington University as we consider our role as one of the world’s leading institutions, as students, faculty, staff, and alumni. Questions like, “How do we find solutions to the health and economic disparities that plague our communities?,” “How do we best uplift the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion?,” “How do we increase access to education, healthcare, and basic needs for those who are lacking?,” or “How do we find sustainable solutions as we seek to protect our earth and its residing people?.”

At WashU, these are just some of the questions we ask as we work together, across the disciplines to find answers to some of the world’s most pressing challenges.

As students, you also engaged in these perplexing questions. You did so as you created art and architecture that serves to shape our world. As you developed innovative technology and business solutions to increase access, efficiency, and infrastructures. As you learned about scientific, historical, and cultural approaches to our humanity. As you learned about legal, medical, and social interventions that have the potential to transform our lives and communities.

You also sought answers to these questions when you studied abroad, when you worked with a classmate from a different part of the world, when you stayed up late debating current events with your roommates, when you volunteered in the community, and when you participated in athletics, the arts, or one of the hundreds of clubs or organizations on campus.

Undoubtedly, your time here was worth far more than any Google search could ever provide — a tangible response to the popular search “Why is education important?” While studying at Washington University, you gained knowledge, understanding, tools, experiences, and relationships that have immense promise to change the world. And now that this particular chapter is ending, it is our greatest hope that you leave this place feeling ready and prepared to continue your passionate and noble search for knowledge and truth.

Thank you all, once again, for being with us today to celebrate this moment and for all the people in this room who have contributed in one way or another to our students’ success.