Michael Crow, Ph.D., President, Arizona State University

Commencement Speech

Michael Crow


Clark University is an unusual institution in that it is not afraid to be different. It is an unusual institution in that it has decided to take its own path in terms of its programs, in the structure of its intellectual identity, and its focus on the concept of change and the enablement of change.

I think the central question is: if you change the individual, really, so what? If you're changed inside yourself, that's valuable to you. How do you make it valuable to others? How do you translate that change, with what you have embraced here, whether you're a geography Ph.D. student or a master in the mathematics of high finance who has been empowered by these subjects? So let's just do a little poll of our graduates in the audience: How many of you feel that everything is moving forward just fantastically, and there are no issues ahead of us as a society? How many of you think that? One guy in the back there [laughter]. He's Rip Van Winkle, he's been asleep for a long time.

I want to talk about the translation from change in the person that the empowerment of the faculty here at this university has given you, and ultimately what the issues are. If you watch the news, it's just unbelievable. There are just people complaining, complaining, complaining; arguments breaking out about every imaginable thing. They're complaining about Congress. K through 12 schools are not working properly; students are not being educated to a high enough level of attainment. But what people don't realize is that we have exactly what we designed. These are the outcomes of the design that we are implementing, and it's working perfectly as designed. People for some reason do not understand that if you want to change things, you must change the design. You must change the way in which the corporation thinks of itself. You must change the way in which it accounts for its assets. You must change the conceptualization of what is a person. It must be changed at the conceptual level, at the design level, and at the implementation level.

Academic chemists have been producing new synthetic molecules—and some of our degree recipients here are in chemistry—for hundreds of years. Of those synthetic molecules that academic chemists have been thinking up, building, and introducing, the vast majority of them have negative impacts on living organisms. So the design of even the subject of chemistry leads to positive outcomes and negative outcomes at the same time. How can we reconceptualize what we think of as chemistry; or even what we think of as an institution, a bank, the real estate industry? The banks and what we went through with the recession recently, that was what was designed. It was designed to fail the way it failed. And it did.

So the question I have for each of you graduates is the following: Are you going to be a cog in a machine, either in academia or industry or in government, even in your own community, just accepting things as they are? Or are you going to take this unbelievable privilege that you have been given by being able to attend this institution, to work with this faculty and this staff, to literally transform your own equation for thinking, and are you going to be able to understand the nature of how things actually are improved?

They are improved not by criticizing them. Nothing is improved by critics—critics are weaklings. All they know how to do is to comment on what someone else is doing. Are you going to be a cog or a critic? Or are you going to do what one of my favorite philosophers, Cicero, said 2,000 years ago, something I ask all of you to think about: "I criticize by what I create."

Congratulations graduates. Go out and change things.