2018 GW Commencement Speaker – Dr. Marcia McNutt



please join me in giving a warm GW welcome to our commencement speaker dr. Marcia McNutt well good morning graduates parents family friends faculty and special guests it is certainly my honor to be here today given the special privilege of being your commencement speaker I was actually so thrilled to be asked to speak to you all here today that the first thing I did was I immediately told my three daughters about this and here was their response if you can show it up on the jumbotron now I know it's really bright out there and you can't probably can't see what they said but they say we wanna Michelle encore so I tried not to be too disappointed in my daughter's reaction after all we all adore the former first lady I mean you know duh of course so I turned to my faithful and trusted canine buddies and confided in them my excitement and here was their response now for those of you who can't read what they said it's we want ruffles nap now I thought even you but you know I don't know you know adorable little ruffles very well and I'm sure he's probably a very sweet little guy but my own dogs who live on our ranch in California don't always display the best judgment especially when it comes to personal hygiene they spend their days jumping into skanky cattle troughs and rolling in pig manure so you know I I really questioned what kind of advice they would pass on to you so I decided it was best to go with the original plan to personal deliver this address rather than cede my spot to ruffles now before first lady Michelle Obama nearly everyone's first choice I will admit to give this on court today before she addressed GW s graduating class of 2010 she challenged that class to an amazing 100 thousand hours of community service which they delivered yeah yay class of 2010 now I also have a challenge for you class of 2018 I challenge you to become beacons of hope I challenge you to become beacons of Hope in your careers and your families in your communities and in the world and I want you to become beacons of Hope at a time when many in the US and the rest of the world are losing hope William Barclay who was a 20th century Scottish professor of divinity said that there are two great days in a person's life the day we are born and the day we discover why the Diploma that you will be given today from this great University is a powerful tool for you to discover your why I want you to find it and use it to bring hope back into this world so why am I here enlisting you into an army of hope in late 2016 something unusual and almost unprecedented happened in the United States life expectancy of Americans after decades of gains began to decline and the main culprit was opioids according to statistics from the Department of Health and Human Services every day 116 people die from opioid overdoses many being middle-aged Americans otherwise being in the prime of their lives the opioid epidemic defies easy answers but experts agree that drug abuse is on the rise and it's fueled by an epidemic of despair so what lies at the root of the current malaise steven pinker a professor of psychology at Harvard and popular author included a chapter on progressive phobia or fear of progress in his recent book entitled enlightenment now Pinker argues that a consequence of progressive phobia is the belief that we need to return to the glory days of the past losing sight of the fact that America and the rest of the world are and continue to be getting better when viewed by historical standards at a macro level Pinker is right death from Wars has been steadily decreasing throughout the world most communicable diseases have been brought under control through vaccines thanks public-health yeah widespread availability of antibiotics has tamed bacterial infections globally today more people actually die from overeating than from starvation we each have the knowledge of the world available at our fingertips from our cell phones thanks School of Engineering people have the prospect of being able to live longer healthier and more productively than during any previous time in human history 100 years ago farmers were 30% of the American workforce today it's less than 2% advances in agricultural science and technology have resulted in a migration from rural America to cities freeing up more citizens to be bobsledders or artists or astronauts or poets or whatever they want to be but how do we inspire young people to see those doors that are opening ahead rather than the doors that are closing behind especially if they are embedded in a community that is suffering from an epidemic of despair so I'm arguing today that hope is the best is the best antidote to that epidemic of despair but in order to give hope we first have to acknowledge that the concerns about progress and those being left behind are real data show that inequality in America has been growing steadily for the last 35 years far too many individuals believe that the American Dream is dying and that they see that hard work and perseverance is not enough to rise up from disadvantaged beginnings so how do we counteract the bias of birth well let me tell you about a woman I was pleased to meet at the National Academy named Frieda Pauli who is the CEO and founder of a small startup called pie metrics at a time when too many experts in AI and nur science are using their skills to try to get people to click on an ad she is instead providing hope for those who aspire to the American Dream she applies neuroscience gaming and cutting-edge machine learning and artificial intelligence to make hiring decisions the beauty of it is that it eliminates the virus bias inherent in hiring based on the standard resume and the result is that her clients find that her approach leads to a high-performing workforce and most important a workforce that naturally mirrors the diversity of America as an example one of her clients hired into a top paying job a new employee whose only prior experience had been as a stock boy and yet that stock boy performed as well or better on the neuroscience gaming as the company's top performers the firm needed to actually alter their reimbursement policy to compensate that new higher upfront for moving expenses because on a stock boy's salary he couldn't afford the airfare to take the job so this is hope for anyone for all when all they're asking for is an even break but it's not just here in the US that we need to provide an antidote to despair enterprising people are finding ways to bring hope directly to those struggling abroad in their home nations the success of kiva.org a pioneer and microlending is now the stuff of legend founded by Jessica Jackley and Matt Flannery who heard a Business School lecture on microfinance and knew right away it was the answer to improving the lives of many hardworking entrepreneurs they had met while traveling in African and yeah these people didn't need donations they needed loans very small loans just tens of dollars to grow their businesses Jessica and Matt answered the call to action and now have provided hope in the form of more than 1 billion dollars to nearly 3 million borrowers in 85 countries around the globe all financed through crowdsourcing with no interest the repayment rate for these loans is an astounding 97% this is hope not a handout it gives people the strength to lift themselves up knowing that tomorrow will be a better day as another example I remember many years ago standing on a deck near my home in California looking over the pastoral Carmel Valley there to support some wildlife veterinarians who were part of a Hail Mary to rescue African animals and sequester them away on private ranches where they would be safe from civil war and poaching the pact with the landowners and their children and their grandchildren was then it was finally safe to move the animals back to their homes the descendants of those original refugees would be reintroduced to their former range I wondered at the time if I would ever leave live to see their plan fulfilled I learned last week that in celebration of eight years of peace the black rhino now roams the national parks in Chad for the first time in nearly 50 years this animal is hope for reinvigorating tourism conservation and prosperity following decades of civil war and strife even more amazing is the kind of hope that has realized from collective action when citizens feel empowered to change the course of their lives it is the empowerment from collective action that keeps democracy strong we've seen so many examples of collective action in the last year the meat – movement brought sexual harassment out of the shadows and into the daylight first in the entertainment industry then in the halls of Congress it's even spread to academia as the famed cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead said never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world indeed it is the only thing that ever has as I see the me2 movement sweeping in a cultural and a change in cultural norms where legal recourse had repeatedly failed I like to think that Margaret Mead is looking down and smiling the reason I became a scientist is because of the hope it brings for a better tomorrow I view that science technology and innovation can provide solutions to the zero-sum game in other words one person getting ahead doesn't come at the expense of someone else losing ground when science is applied with appropriate care and forethought for example we can have healthier oceans more fish in the sea and more abundant catches for fishermen with less effort the so called triple bottom line if we use science to manage the oceans as a precious sustainable resource rather than as a one-time race to grab that less fish in the sea a few decades ago I met biologist Robert Tegan when we were asked to be co-organizers of a meeting of early career researchers teach told me about his work with stem cells a biological cell that is not yet specialized to become a muscle cell a skin cell a liver cell or whatever at that point he was in an early phase of programming these cells most are most often harvested from umbilical cords to turn them into whatever kind of cell he wanted them to be to me it sounded like magic well what was magic then has now progressed to clinical application the most common being stem cell therapy for bone marrow transplant but many other applications are now on the horizon to cure neuro generative diseases diabetes and heart disease for people with debilitating and chronic conditions research like this is a profound source of hope and I still think magic hope can come in the form of just throwing someone a lifeline I know for a fact I would not be standing before you today had it not been for the hope that a professor handed me many years ago as the only woman among the first-year graduate students in geophysics he knew that the deck was stacked against me far too many women before me had failed because of the male culture that was not welcoming so he sent me to Navy SEAL team school my first summer to learn explosives training after I graduated first in the class upon returning to geophysics I had no problem with the male culture and no one messed with me my prospects for completing a degree had suddenly improved markedly and I tried for the years after to repay that favor forward with my own students and with my daughters and with the other women I came into contact with the moral is hope is contagious and it's a good kind of contagion so hope is actually all around us but there's still not enough of it the good news is that each of you graduates here today has just the skills you need to become an agent of hope a recent report just out from the National Academies advocates that citizens of the 21st century will benefit from an education integrating the arts the humanities the sciences and the social sciences the type of education provided by George Washington University because hope is inspired when you can dream like the artist show the heart of the humanist formulates solutions with the inside of a scientist and executes projects with the precision of the engineer I heard a former Navy SEAL say that just the sound of an approaching helicopter would be enough to rally the vital sounds of a grievously wounded calm and often enough for that soldier to hang on until the medics could treat his injuries something as simple as that helicopter sound and he lives to fight another day Godspeed to you class of 2018 I charge you to be that helicopter [Applause]

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