writing

Mark Rober @ MIT

June 2023

Mark Rober launching his graduation cap with a drone

Mark Rober gave the commencement speech at the 2023 graduating class of MIT. Below is my précised summary of his speech

Good afternoon, esteemed faculty, distinguished guests, relieved parents, bored siblings, confused pets, and, of course, the 2023 graduating class of MIT. It is indeed a warm welcome.

It’s hot.

And you know what I love to do on a beautiful, sunny, 951 degree summers day? Wear a big black blanket. At least I’m up here in the shade. You’d think the best engineering school on the planet could design a bigger awning for everyone. Maybe next year…

Standing here before you is weird.

I feel this pressure to give some timeless advice that will endure, despite our world changing at an unprecedented pace. The world is so different, even from four years ago. For example, for the undergrads, you are the first graduating class to have persevered through a global pandemic, just as this is the first commencement speech written entirely by ChatGPT.

At this point, I should probably tell your parents who I am. I’m Mark Rober, a former Apple and NASA mechanical engineer who became a YouTuber. And, yes, I know, to some of you, it sounds like I just said I quit the NBA to work at Foot Locker. Or I traded a Picasso for an NFT of a stoned monkey2. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Embrace Naive Optimism

My first piece of advice is to embrace naive optimism. Naive optimism means it’s easier to be optimistic about your future when you’re sort of naive about what lies ahead, when you don’t know what you don’t know. Sometimes it’s an advantage not to be the expert with all the experience. Embrace your inexperience, and keep taking leaps forward.

Anyone who tells you they knew where they’d be, where they’re at, 20 years ago is either lying, or delusional, or a time-traveler, or Pat Sajak3.

Frame Your Failures

My second piece of advice is to frame your failures. I asked 50,000 of my YouTube followers to play a puzzle. What they didn’t know is that there were two versions: in one, when you failed you lost points, in the other you were just prompted to try again. Those who didn’t lose completely fake meaningless internet points kept trying 2.5x longer and succeeded 16% more.

Those who don’t frame losing in a negative light stick with it for longer, see more success, and learn more. Frame those failures and slips like a video game. And not only will you learn more and do it faster, but it will make all the successful jumps along the way that much sweeter.

Foster Your Relationships

My third and final bit of advice is to foster your relationships. A sad truth about getting older is life gets busier and busier. And it gets harder and harder to make really close friends like you did here at school. The trick is to positively apply confirmation bias to your relationships. If you assume good intentions on the part of your friends and family, and you tell yourself you’re lucky to have them, your brain will naturally work to find evidence to support that. The opposite, unfortunately, is also true. The best predictor of divorce is if the couple assumes bad intentions in their partner’s actions, or if you marry Kanye.

Engage in Occasional Playful Anarchy

And for a bonus piece of advice, engage in occasional playful anarchy. Why not? I am playing music in a commencement speech because why not? Is not ending your speech with pump-up music4 just objectively better?

Congratulations, MIT class of 2023. You totally got this.

  1. 35°C, that really is hot!

  2. Likely, Bored Ape Yacht Club

  3. An American television personality and game show host

  4. Richard Strauss - Also sprach Zarathustra