Successfully reported this slideshow.
We use your LinkedIn profile and activity data to personalize ads and to show you more relevant ads. You can change your ad preferences anytime.

Binghamton University Fall Commencement Keynote Address by David Berkowitz: What Are You Making of Yourself?


Published on

Here is the full text of my keynote address given at Binghamton University's Fall Commencement, December 15, 2013. It describes the new age of entrepreneurialism, the Maker Movement, while encouraging people to seek the answer to this question: What are you making of yourself?

Published in: Education, Technology
  • Login to see the comments

Binghamton University Fall Commencement Keynote Address by David Berkowitz: What Are You Making of Yourself?

  1. 1. Binghamton University Commencement Address Fall 2013 David Berkowitz @dberkowitz
  2. 2. Dedicated to Jack Weinstein 1926-2001 “A bit of sun, a bit of rain, a peaceful place to lay your head … so long as you’re healthy, you can be happy.” - translated from “Abi Gezunt” – “So Long as You’re Healthy” a Yiddish song, penned by Molly Picon, which Jack loved singing, and teaching his students
  3. 3. In December 2013, I was invited back to my alma mater, Binghamton University, to deliver the keynote address at their fall Commencement ceremony. Here’s the text of the speech, as it was delivered. Note: the version on SlideShare includes an embedded video of the full speech after this, with the full text following. You can also watch the video on YouTube directly.
  4. 4. Thank you, President Stenger, graduates, your family and friends, faculty and staff, alumni, community members, distinguished guests – and the bagpipers (weren’t they amazing?) – for welcoming me here. How’s it going? How are you? Comment ca va? Que pasa? Que tal? Kif halken? Ni hao ma? Tsup?
  5. 5. Normally, people say these words and don’t really care about the response. It’s just a polite greeting. People aren’t usually looking to give or receive an answer. If you do have an answer though, it’s a great way to catch people off guard.
  6. 6. I learned another way to ask “How are you?” when I was at Binghamton. I’ll never forget it. I had a professor here, Jack Weinstein, of blessed memory. He taught Yiddish here – yes, Yiddish, and most people who took it once kept coming back for more not really to be proficient in the language, but to spend more time learning from Jack. He was pretty good at teaching linguistics. He was amazing at teaching life.
  7. 7. One of the first lessons Jack taught was, fittingly, how to say, “How are you?” In Yiddish, it’s only two words – “Vos Makhstu?” And people in Yiddish often throw it out there like they’re saying, “How are you?” – a casual question that tends to yield a similarly casual response – “I’m good,” “I’m fine.” But what Professor Weinstein taught me that I’ll never forget is the real meaning of “Vos Makhstu?” The literal translation is far more profound. Instead of just asking, “How are you,” you’re asking, “What are you making of yourself?”
  8. 8. Imagine that. You’re at an alumni reunion a year from now. You run into an old friend you used to do a scorpion bowl with at the Ratt but haven’t seen since, unless you count a few Facebook exchanges. And your friend comes up to you and says, “Hey, how have you been? What are you making of yourself?” Whoa. How do you answer that one?
  9. 9. What are you making of yourself?
  10. 10. Do you have an answer for that? Could you come up with one? Are you remotely prepared to answer the question?
  11. 11. Today, I hope you are. Congratulations, by the way. Today, the thousands of us gathered here should all be convinced that you graduates here are in the process of making something of yourself. As this ceremony ends, you will have done so. This is a truly wondrous, momentous achievement. You’ve earned a degree, one that most of you have probably worked hard to earn (let’s admit it – at least a few of you mailed it in… and now is probably not a good time to look over at that friend of yours in that camp if you want to stay friends after you leave here). This will almost definitely add some positive momentum to the rest of your lives. I’m thrilled to soon count all of you as comrades in the Binghamton University Alumni Network.
  12. 12. But what happens next? Sorry to bring this up. It might be a touchy subject. Whatever you do and wherever you’re off to, you can always say you’ve made something of yourself by earning this degree you’ve received today. That’s great, if you were asked, “What have you made of yourself?” But then, each day that’s ahead, with every tomorrow, how will you answer, “What are you making of yourself?”
  13. 13. Even thinking about this myself, it’s incredibly daunting. Yes, it’s been a pretty good run for me. I wasn’t invited back to speak here because the administration felt sorry for me and wanted to give me some kind of consolation prize. I clearly wasn’t invited back here because I’ve given the most money to the school (sorry!); the Bartle Library will not be renamed the Berkowitz Library anytime soon, which is just as well, since I didn’t spend very much time there. I’m assuming someone at Binghamton thought, “Here’s an alumnus who’s making something of himself, and he probably won’t embarrass us too much.”
  14. 14. Presumably, that person hadn’t looked too closely into some of the satirical stunts I pulled during my tenure on campus, and some other light infractions were kindly brushed aside. Heck, my first semester, I was taken down to the campus police station in the back of a squad car for trying to bring my own car to campus freshman year before I had enough credits. Perhaps they will vet the speakers a little more closely next year. Thanks again for having me, President Stenger!
  15. 15. Since my time as a student here, I have tried to make something of myself, and then remake it. Unsure of what I’d do when I’d graduate, during my senior year I received advice at Binghamton’s Metro Career Fair run by the Alumni Association and Career Development Center that forever changed my life. An alum recognized that by ditching Pipe Dream my senior year and trying my hand starting an online publication for the university, I inadvertently gave myself job skills – something I tried as hard as possible not to do in my four years as an English and then a Psych major. I am someone who thought it was a good idea to take Yiddish, after all. Six courses of Yiddish, not one in economics. My parents probably spent years wondering what it was they were paying for, though I did move out of their place pretty quickly after college.
  16. 16. I’ve tried to make my way through what was then known as new media and the new economy. First it was technical writing at a dot-com startup, which let me go five months later and then imploded (that was also the time I really learned the meaning of the word “schadenfreude”). Then there was the research firm which I joined as an editor, and then I got the chance to make up a public relations role, with no training. This was followed by a couple of director of marketing roles in the interactive media field. Then I took a role so focused on making stuff up that “emerging media” was in my job title, and I lasted seven years doing it. Ultimately, this summer, I joined the agency MRY as its first Chief Marketing Officer. Each time around, it presented new opportunities to make something of myself, as well as of the organization I was working for.
  17. 17. That’s one thing Binghamton prepared me for in a big way. This is a phenomenal university, but it’s one where you have no choice but to make something of yourself. Binghamton – I think we can accept this – is not New York City. It’s not a place where there are a million things to do, or institutions with hundreds of years of tradition to fall back on, or, despite its move to Division I, a history of athletic dominance that attracts thousands of alumni back for homecoming. Binghamton is a school that, even at the age of 67, is still a work in progress. Its identity is still being shaped, especially as its brand spreads further nationally and internationally. That makes it a ripe institution for entrepreneurs, and the entrepreneurial spirit. It’s a school where there’s less of an opportunity to take part in traditions than create traditions.
  18. 18. It is a 67-year-old startup. That’s to its credit. To be around that long and still create an atmosphere where anything is possible is practically a singular feat. Look around and see how many 67-year-olds, whether people or corporations or organizations, that are open to reinventing themselves, and open to everyone connected with them taking part in their reinvention. That, in modern parlance, is the definition of crowdsourcing. If you have taken a proactive role here in shaping your identity at this university and shaping the university’s identity in the process, you can consider yourself with having unparalleled preparation for what’s ahead.
  19. 19. The world is now entering a new phase of entrepreneurialism. It’s called the Maker Movement. This is an era where it’s possible for anyone to come up with, design, prototype, create, fund, and market new products and services. It’s an era where anyone can turn the iPhone in their pocket into Edison’s Menlo Park lab or Hewlett and Packard’s Palo Alto garage. This era is epitomized by 3D printing, where someone can download a design for practically any kind of object in the world and print out a unique, personalized version of it, or a million personalized versions, whether from their home printer or through an industrial printing factory.
  20. 20. It’s an era of disruption. If you think of the industries disrupted by companies such as Google, Expedia, Amazon, AirBNB, Uber, and others, just wait for what’s ahead. Consider just one example. Or as Sophia from Golden Girls would say, picture this. A former colleague of mine who’s a 3D printing hobbyist needed shower curtain rings one night. I’m not sure what he was doing where, in the middle of the night, he realized he needed shower curtain rings, but listen to what he did. He went on a website called Thingiverse – fun name, right? – and found a design for the shower curtain rings that he liked. He saved the file for free. Then he sent the file to the 3D printer sitting on his desk – a Makerbot, if you’re familiar with it. In an hour or so – these early versions take awhile – he printed the dozen plastic shower curtain rings that he needed. That was it. The plastic that he used to print it came from Makerbot, and maybe cost a dollar – and the price will drop rapidly.
  21. 21. Think of all the businesses disintermediated here. Goodbye designer at the bathroom supply company. Goodbye factory in China manufacturing them. Goodbye DHL shipping them to the States. Goodbye Bed, Bath & Beyond. Goodbye the need for the gas in the car and the faster need for the car’s oil change, and the toll paid on the highway, and the pit stop at McDonald’s, and everything else that would have been affected by his need for shower curtain rings in the past.
  22. 22. And this is all just the beginning. Today, it’s quickly becoming just as easy to print out a new human organ that could save someone’s life as it is an unregistered gun that could take someone’s life. If Bed, Bath & Beyond were to be threatened by this new movement, would there be viable businesses taking its place? What’s to prevent you from taking a pocket-sized 3D object scanner into a store, scanning a product you like, and then uploading it for anyone to access for free? As many lawyers as there are who have graduated from this university, the world’s actually going to need even more of them to sort all this out.
  23. 23. Beyond lawyers though, innovators are needed. The Maker Movement needs makers. The world is now in demand for people who will make something of themselves. It needs people who know what it’s like to create something from nothing, to look at what there is and reinvent it, to imagine how the world should be and could be and will be, and to do something about it. There have been many good times over the past millennia for inventors. But there’s never been such a propitious time for makers.
  24. 24. You are one of them. You need to be one of them. As you graduate today, you have the talents and qualifications needed to be a maker, whatever it is you choose to make. And it’s not all about goods and services. Making something of yourself means molding your character and living your life in a way that you feel does justice and even honor to your name. That’s going to be the far bigger challenge, with the promise of a far bigger reward. For me, it has meant making myself into the best person I can, the best brother and son and grandson and uncle, and in recent years, the best husband. If all goes well, this February, I will aim to make myself into the best father I can possibly be – one of life’s most profound transformations.
  25. 25. The making of your character is a far more meaningful undertaking than the making of your career, but the choices you have made and will make as to your education and life’s work will in turn shape how you make yourself into who you are. Making something is not just going to be your opportunity, but your obligation – and hopefully, your calling.
  26. 26. Congrats again on making something of yourself. I join the thousands of others here in being proud of you for the achievement. Get ready for each day ahead though. You know what’s the best way to prepare yourself? Ask yourself each day, “What am I making of myself?” Listen to your answer. At first it may be a challenge. And then, as you make something of yourself more often, and it becomes part of your habit, you’ll start to love it. You’ll start to live for each moment that you ask yourself that question, because you’ll take so much pride in how you respond.
  27. 27. You’ll start to wish that instead of people asking you how you’re doing or how it’s going, they’d ask you, “What are you making of yourself?” Because whenever they ask, you’re going to know the answer.
  28. 28. Thank you! David Berkowitz @dberkowitz