Victor Hwang Austin Community College Fall 2014 Commencement Speech “Three Love Letters”

Victor Hwang Austin Community College Fall 2014 Commencement Speech “Three Love Letters”


>>Victor Hwang is
CEO and co-founder of T2 Venture Creation,
a Silicon Valley firm that supports entrepreneurial
innovation. A global leader in the
venture capital industry, Victor has mentored hundreds
of startup companies. He is part of the
Kauffman Fellows Society, an elite network of
venture capitalists, an Executive Director of
Global Innovation Summit, an annual conference
that empowers innovators and draws delegates
from around the world. Victor is past president
of the Larta Institute, which works to commercialize
technology ideas in order to improve lives. Victor’s other ventures range from co-founding a water
purification company to authoring books
on innovation. He previously worked as
an attorney specializing in corporate technology
and finance law. Victor graduated from
Austin’s Westlake High School. He went on to Harvard University
where he studied government and computer science and earned
a bachelor’s degree with honors. He obtained his law
degree from the law school of the University of Chicago. He’s a strong advocate
for education, for completing your degree
and making a difference in the world, exactly what
we’re here celebrating tonight. And by the way, he also
happens to be the son of ACC Trustee, Dr. Betty Hwang. Please join me in
welcoming Mr. Victor Hwang. [ Applause ]>>President Rhodes, graduates,
families, faculty and staff, and most importantly,
the all-powerful and extremely good-looking
Board of Trustees, which happens to
include my mother. Congratulations, graduates. You guys are my heroes. I know it’s been
hard to get here. For many of you, it’s been
harder than it should have been. I have deep admiration
for what you’ve done, I’m moved by what your friends
and family have sacrificed. Whatever I say here
today is really lucky to be an asterisk
in your life story. Now, for those of
you from Oklahoma, an asterisk is the star below
the number 7 on your telephone. I’m just kidding. I know rotary dial phones
don’t have asterisks. Almost every commencement
speech can be summed up in a few pithy aphorisms:
be grateful, love one another, dream big, never give
up, and change the world. I could say all those
and be done. You might actually prefer that. But I don’t want to give you
a regular graduation speech. Your time is too
precious for that. Besides, it’s really easy
for you to go on YouTube and see Puff Daddy’s
commencement speech earlier this year. He says just what I told you,
but it’s way more entertaining. Instead, I’ve decided today to
give you three love letters. Simple. Three letters
expressing my affection. The first letter is from
me to the city of Austin, the second one from
me to America, and the third from me to you. So love letter number one. Austin. Even though I
don’t live here now, this city means a lot to me. It’s one of the first
great loves of my life. It’s where I came of age, it’s
how I learned to be a young man, it’s where I learned some simple
values, like the importance of handshakes and
speaking plainly. It’s where I learned the power of music authentically
expressed, like the cry of a steel guitar
or cowboy songs around a campfire late at night. It’s where I learned to dream. I still remember
going with friends to Enchanted Rock
one time and counting over 30 shooting stars
while lying on our backs. It was like we were on the
prowl of Spaceship Earth. We had the whole world below
us as we hurdled forward into the universe above us. I still remember moving
to Austin as a teenager and realizing that I’d never
tasted such a place before. Austin has a flavor
that is unique. It lingers in the soul. It wasn’t until I grew up that
I realized how special and rare that flavor is in the world. A full generation has passed since that time and
things changed. Austin has boomed, and Austinites can be
rather nostalgic these days. One generation ago Whole
Foods was the small neighborhood grocery. Those are the words from
the corporate website. Today there are over 360 such small neighborhood
groceries around the world. One generation ago, South by Southwest was a bracelet
you bought to go bar hopping and hear local bands play. Today multinational corporations
sponsor events at “South by” to market new products
to millions of consumers. One generation ago when I talked
to people outside of the state of Texas, Austin was often
confused with Houston. Now, Houston is sometimes
confused with Austin. Sorry, Houstonians. Here’s what I’ve
come to realize. Austin was special because it
was the edge of the frontier, not just the geographical
frontier, it was at the edge of cultural frontiers, a
collision of different ways of living, the mash up of
cowboys, hippies, intellectuals, and civic leaders,
created its own music that still echoes
in the hills today. And each of these
components played a role. Gritty bluntness from the
cowboys, open heartedness from the hippies, love of
ideas from the academics, grand ambition from
the civic leaders. Those were the lines of code in the original operating
system of Austin. That software program simply ran
its course over several decades. One generation later and I
can still taste that Austin. The flavor will remain on
my taste buds until I die. So here’s the takeaway lesson. There is a natural power
at the edge of frontiers. When you go fishing, the best
place to drop your line are at those transition points,
where light meets dark, shallow meets deep,
fast meets slow. The same is true for human life. When you go searching
for your fortune in life, look for those transition
points. That’s the frontier. That was Austin. My second love letter
is to America. I love this country. The irony is that
when I was growing up, I never felt truly American, the son of Chinese
immigrants in middle America. But with time I’ve
come to realize that I’m actually more American
than many quote “Americans.” I’ve seen and understood
this country in ways that others haven’t. I’ve been to every
state in the union. I’ve lived in a bunch of them. I breathed in almost every
corner of America, small town and large, rural and urban,
east and west, north and south. I remember when soccer
moms were just called moms. I remember when a new
neighbor was greeted with freshly baked cake. I also remember something
my father said to me when I was young. He said that a lot of
cultures around the world claim to be the nicest in the world. But of all the places
he had been, Americans were the
warmest to strangers. I wasn’t sure if I
believed him at the time, but I’ve traveled the world,
I’ve seen over 50 countries and I concluded my
father was right. America is the warmest
country to strangers. It’s not perfect, for sure, but
far better than anywhere else. Why is this? It’s not just about
nice manners. What I’ve learned is
that the answer goes to the heart of America. This is a country built on
the good faith of strangers. The next time you walk into
a coffee shop, look closely. Look at who is doing what. You’ll definitely see lots
of old friends and families and neighbors catching up, but in America you’ll
also see something that is rare elsewhere
in the world. You’ll see lots of people doing
things together you just met a short time ago. This is a land where
people take chances on strangers because we all are. Strangers become friends quickly
because they need each other to survive and get things done. Imagine you were alive six
generations ago and you wanted to cross America by wagon. You had a six-month
journey across the frontier. You risk starvation,
disease, injury and attacks. Before they started, strangers
would form wagon caravans of up to 300 people they
had never met before. They entrusted their lives to
each other, taking the gamble that the unknown dangers
ahead were still better than the world they’d
left behind. It was the ultimate
start-up company. In comparison a startup
company today in Silicon Valley making dating
apps sounds pretty ridiculous. Frontiers require strangers to
come together and form teams to achieve common ends. The process is not always
pretty, because strangers tend to disagree, distrust, bicker,
and fight; but in the end over the long arc of history,
it creates something beautiful like the collision of
cultures that made Austin. The frontier story, I
believe, is the American story, but it’s also the reason that
America is struggling today. We’ve already built
a great society. We’ve conquered a frontier,
but now in the new Millennium, Americans look around
at each other and are saying, “Now what?” When we have no more
frontier to conquer, we start feeding on ourselves. Thus, we see in-fighting,
we see polarization. We are suffering today from the
end of the American frontier. So my love letter to this
beautiful country ends with simply this. Don’t let the end of the
American frontier be the end of the American story. It’s time to create a
new American mission. After we conquered
the physical frontier, what new frontiers can challenge
and bring this nation together? My third and most important
love letter is for you. I don’t know many
of you personally, but I already know who you are. I know because we’re
all fellow human beings. You have some things
you’re good at, you have far more
things you’re bad at, you love some people a
lot, others not so much. You wish the world would
work more the way you think it should. And you worry. You worry if you can achieve
the life you want to be happy. You worry that I’m going to
keep talking for too long. So here’s a big secret. Most adults are pretending:
status, intelligence, beauty, wealth, achievement. The older you get, the more
you see people pretending in little ways all the time. People drop names to make
themselves look more important, they try to assert power to make
the world seem less terrifying, they post pictures on Facebook to prove how exciting
their lives are. In a society built on shifting
frontiers where we rely on strangers, we worry
a lot about our place. There is so much uncertainty. It’s human nature to worry. Our tendency, as frail,
biological creatures, is to pretend to be bigger
than we or, or to run away. But I would ask you t
o fight this instinct. Your mission as a citizen
of Austin, America, and the human race, is to
remake the frontier every day, in little ways. This requires you
to be comfortable with uncomfortable things. This is not easy. In frontiers people
often look different, speak strange languages, behave
oddly, believe differently. Some of them will hurt you, but
the vast majority of them won’t. So to renew the frontier
every day, what do you do? Let me offer you
some pithy aphorisms, since this is a graduation
after all. Hopefully these could be
new sayings for new era. I’ve got seven. Be uncomfortable. Open doors. Empathize with strangers. Try new things out. Seek serendipity. Take chances with new friends. And pay it forward to
people you don’t know. These are really hard
things to do, because most of the time our instincts
push us the opposite way. But these are the origins of
the American frontier story, the roots of Austin’s beloved
culture, and the future to your success in
the new economy. That’s how my three love
letters are connected together. While life is often determined
by dumb luck, these are the ways to tilt the odds of
dumb luck in your favor. Thank you for listening. It’s not often one
gets such a privilege, and I humbly hope I’ve
taken your time well. To Austin, stay weird,
to America, keep the frontier fresh, and
to you, may you forever thrive at that frontier’s edge where
the known confronts the unknown. Best wishes, congratulations,
and much love to all of you. [ Applause ]>>Victor, we thank you. We’d like to present
you with the award of Honorary Associate degree
of Austin Community College. It reads as follows: “Be it
known that Mr. Victor Hwang, for his distinguished service
and dedicated friendship to Austin Community College,
is hereby awarded the degree of Honorary Associate
of Arts and is entitled to all the rights, privileges, and honors pertaining
to that recognition. In testimony thereof, the Board of Trustees has granted this
honorary diploma bearing the seal of the college, done this
11th day of December, 2014. I would now like for the
Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Mr. Jeffrey
Richard, and Vice Chair, Dr. Vic Villarreal, to
present you with a diploma and trustee Dr. Betty
Hwang will present you with a specially designed
stole as an honorary graduate of Austin Community College. [ Applause ] You’re not done yet. Along with this award
of Honorary Associates of Arts degree, Austin Community
College is designating $25,000 for the Austin Community College
Foundation Endowment Fund to create the Victor
Hwang Endowed Scholarship. This will allow students for
generations to come to benefit from your legacy as a supporter
of higher education and help to strengthen our
region by investing in our future workforce. Victor, we value your
friendship and we thank you for your service to
our nation, our state, our community, and our college. We truly value you as a
member and the newest member of the Austin Community
College family. Congratulations.

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