Dick Costolo at 2013 Spring Commencement

Richard Costolo

I love you too. You know I have to start with by tweeting this, so just give me one second. I’m a professional so this will only take a second.

All right, I want to start off by thanking President Coleman, all the graduates, friends and family, faculty of course and finally the Board of Regents who sit behind me quietly judging us all.

I’d like to also take a moment to thank my mother and father who are here today and I’d like all of you to remember at the end of the day, to take a moment to thank your parents or whoever it was that helped you get where you are today. They have sacrificed greatly for you and we’ll be out of here by 3:30 I promise.

When I woke up this morning and started writing my speech, I was thinking about my first month on campus in September, when I was a freshman. And the football team went into that season, ranked number one in the nation, preseason and there was all this — I remember that September when I got here, there was all this excitement on campus. And our first game was at Wisconsin and we went up there and we lost our first game, 21 to 14 and there was this just crushing disappointment afterwards. And I’d like you to think of that, soaring expectations followed by crushing disappointment, as a metaphor for your next 20 minutes with me.

When I was sitting where you are so many years ago, but what seems to me really like just yesterday, I was earning my degree in Computer Science and, Yay nerds! At the time, the CS Department was in the School of Literature, Science and the Arts, so I had to have a certain number of Arts credits to graduate. And so my first semester senior year, I decided, Well I‘ll take an acting class because” — I’m just going to pander to the crowd, that’s the kind of person I am. I thought, I’ll take an acting class because we won’t have a lot of homework and I‘ll go in and we’ll say Arthur Miller lines to each other and then I can work on my operating systems programs at night. And I loved the class so much that my second semester senior year, I took another acting class and in fact I started doing standup comedy which I’d never done before at the Michigan Union at the U-Club. So that, by the time I was sitting where you guys are today with my CS degree, I had offers from three technology companies to go work for them as a programmer, but I decided instead that what I would do is move to Chicago, try to get into the improv comedy group Second City and go on from there to Saturday Night Live and ultimate fame and glory.

Now in the Hollywood version of my story, what would happen is there’d be about three minutes where I would move to Chicago and I would suffer mightily probably at night or in the rain. There would be music in the background and I would come home at night to a dog in a giant loft that I could somehow miraculously afford and fall asleep. And after those three minutes, I would be discovered by a director who would cast me to film and I’d walk down the red carpet and my parents would be across the red carpet giving me the thumbs up.

In the real world story of what happened when I decided to make a big bet on myself and take the chance to do this because it’s what I loved, I was grinding away for a long time and I had no money and we would rehearse during the day and perform to these little theaters at night for free. And I was taking classes during the day at Second City as well, trying to learn improvisation and I eventually had to get odd jobs because I had no money. So I put my CS degree from Michigan to use wrapping flatware and selling place settings in Crate & Barrel.

But while I kept on improvising in Chicago for many years, I want to tell you two lessons I learned in that very first year there, learning at Second City. The first one was we had this director at Second City, who was instructing a class I was in, named Don Depollo. And there are four people up on stage, there are about 10 of us in the class and these guys are improvising that they’re in a laundromat and the scene ends and Don asked all of us in the room, What do you see up there on that stage right now? And there was nothing up there, so we described what we see up on the stage. It’s an empty stage. And Don says, So far today, you guys have improvised that you’re in an apartment, an apartment, a laundromat and an apartment. What are you afraid of? We all kind of looked at each other like, “What do you mean what are we afraid of?” And he said, You need to make more courageous choices. The reason that stage is completely empty and doesn’t have a set on it is so that you can go out there and be in the Keebler Elf factory or be on the space shuttle as an astronaut who’s never even tried to fly a plane before. Make bigger choices, take courageous risks.

And a few months later I was studying at Second City with another legendary director there, Martin de Maat, and Steve Carell was out on stage. Steve and I were on the same group and he was improvising something. I was back stage and I thought of this amazing line and I thought, I got to go out there and get into the scene and I’m going to get this line out. And so I entered the stage and I try to start moving the scene in the direction of what I wanted to say and Martin stops the scene. He says, Stop, stop. And he says to the whole class, but really he’s talking to me. He says, You can’t plan a script. The beauty of improvisation is you’re experiencing it in the moment. If you try to plan what the next line is suppose to be, you’re just going to be disappointed when the other people on stage with you don’t do or say what you want them to do and you’ll stand there frozen. Be in this moment. And he stopped everyone in the room and said, All of you right now, be in this moment. Now be here in this moment, now be here in this moment.”

I continued to stay in Chicago and improvised there for many years and ultimately got lots of auditions for shows and got all none of them. Fortunately during this time, the internet happened and that was great because when the internet happened — I know it’s funny to you guys. When I was your age, we didn’t have the internet in our pants. We didn’t even have the internet not in our pants. That’s how bad it was. I know I sound like my grandfather right now. We didn’t have teeth. There were no question marks, we just had words. What was I talking about? The internet.

So I dove into the internet because I saw it’s this extensible structure that had these amazing possibilities and I created a sequence of companies over the course of the next 20 years that led me to Twitter. If there’s ever an example of the importance of making bold bets and focusing on what you love, it’s Twitter. When Twitter cofounder Jack Dorsey talks about the origins of his thinking for the product, he talks about his fascination with maps. He talks about his ultimate fascination with dispatch systems as he studied maps and the more efficient way of getting things like taxis and ambulances to where they needed to more quickly. And when he sent out his first tweet, “Just setting up my Twitter,” he didn’t plan for President Obama to declare victory on that platform in the 2012 election. None of us at Twitter fought during the earthquake and ensuing tsunami in Fukushima, Japan that our service would be a great alternative communication platform if the mobile networks in Japan were spotty in the aftermath. And certainly none of us even hoped, let alone considered, that our platform would be one of those used to organize protests across the Middle East in Tunisia and in Egypt during the Arab Spring.

Here’s the amazing thing about what I’ve observed when I’ve witnessed all of those things. Not only can you not plan the impact you’re going to have. You often won’t recognize it even while you’re having it. A few months after I started at Twitter, Russian President Medvedev was coming to the office. And that morning going into the office, the streets were all completely blocked off by the San Francisco Police and the U.S. Secret Service was there and Russian Security Forces were there and so was this crazy scene walking into the building. I remember going through the metal detector to get into our office which was there just for the day and there were all these guys in these crazy uniforms with these beautiful German Shepherds that looked like they could kill you standing right next to them. And so there was this huge buildup and President Medvedev came into the office with his entourage and they’re all these reporters and cameras behind them and he was going to send out his first tweet from the office to the rest of the world. Everyone was waiting for that happen and as he was walking down the hall, taking a tour of the office before going to send his first tweet, I got a tap on my shoulder and I turn around and I say, What is it? And this person says to me, The site is down. And being the thoughtful, charismatic leader that I am, I said, Like totally down? Totally down. So the next day, you know you guys and the rest of the world read President Obama welcoming Russian President Medvedev to Twitter and declaring that we maybe no longer needed the red phone anymore because we could now use Twitter. But for me, that moment was, The site is down. And it’s always like that, not the site is down part. The impact is what others framed for you and the world after it happens. The present is only what you’re experiencing and focused on right now and every so often, my past and present come together.

I was invited to this fundraiser at this children’s hospital in the Bay Area last year and Steve Carell was the guest speaker. And so I took a photocopy of this review of the group that Steve and I were in Chicago over 25 years ago to the charity auction. And I showed it to Steve when I got a chance to talk to him. He’s mobbed the whole time by people, but we got a chance to have a brief conversation. We looked at this photocopy of the review and talked about the different people in the group and where they were now and we’d kept in touch with some but not with all of them. At the end of that conversation, Steve patted me on the back and he said, I’m really sorry it didn’t work out for you. You cannot draw that path looking forward. You cannot draw any of your paths looking forward. So you have to figure out what you love to do what you have conviction about and go do that.

Here’s the challenge, so far, you guys have gotten where you are by meeting and exceeding expectations. You are awesome. You have excelled. Look at you. You looked like an amazing, giant choir. But from here on out, you have to switch gears. You are no longer meeting and exceeding expectations. There are no expectations. There’s no script. When you’re doing what you love to do, you become resilient because that’s the habit you create for yourself. You create a habit of taking chances on yourself and making bold choices in service to doing what you love. If on the other hand, you do what you think is expected of you or what you are supposed to do, and things go poorly or chaos ensues as it surely will, you will look to external sources for what to do next because that will be the habit you’ve created for yourself. You’ll be standing there frozen on the stage of your own life. If you’re just filling a role, you will be blind-sided.

Here’s the other problem. I don’t feel like I can stand here and tell you to try to have an impact because the problem seems so massive, it seems impossible to make any impact at all and you just end up feeling like you can’t do anything. Just thinking about it, you know Syria and Iran and North Korea, is you go through that list, you know it makes me want to sweat and not just because I’m wearing this robe that has no natural fibers in it. I think this was synthesized from tractor fuel three days ago.

So instead, what I implore you to do is believe that if you make courageous choices and bet on yourself, and put yourself out there that you will have an impact as a result of what you do and you don’t need to know now what that will be or how it will happen because nobody ever does. So I like to think of you guys in the metaphor of my early improv days as having been backstage preparing and you are here now and look at everything you’ve accomplished. It’s remarkable. You are just also amazing to me and I’m so proud of everything you’ve done.

But as you get ready to walk out under the bright lights of the improvisational stage of the rest of your life, I implore you to remember those two lessons I learned years ago, be bold, make courageous choices for yourself. Be in the Keebler Elf Factory, what are you afraid of? And secondly, don’t always worry about what your next line is supposed to be, what you’re supposed to do next, there’s no script. Live your life, be in this moment, be in this moment, now be in this moment.

Twenty years from now, you will be sitting in a different seat in this stadium and you will be lying in a field looking up at the clouds and you will be holding a patient’s hand walking into surgery, and you will be grading or evaluating a student’s essay, and you will be sitting on the sidelines of your daughter’s soccer practice and you will be standing behind this podium.

Be right there and nowhere else in that moment, soak it all in and remember to say, Thank you. Thank you, hashtag, go blue!

ref link: http://voicetube.tw/videos/print/7619

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