Under the late morning California sun, a crowd of thousands sat quietly in Stanford Stadium. The graduating class, decked out in caps and gowns spilled forth from the stage like black water against a seawall.
On the stage, a mousy faculty member gave the typical clichéd remarks before introducing the main attraction of the day.
“Ladies and gentlemen, it’s my great pleasure to introduce to you today’s commencement address speaker. The vast majority of us know him because of his two wildly successful websites that have become internet mainstays, Line and Ellipsis. Additionally, he is a first class philanthropist, and one of the world’s youngest billionaires. Class of 2016, family, friends, and guests, please welcome to the podium Mr. Dylan Fields, CEO of Fieldy Lands Inc.”
The crowd roared to life, offering a standing ovation to the thirty-two year old billionaire bounding energetically across the stage. Upon arriving at the podium, he held his hands up to quiet the cheering masses.
A moment passed before the din subsided to his satisfaction.
“Stanford University, class of twenty sixteen!” he shouted into the microphone, igniting a second round of cheers and applause. One could tell by the expression on his face – his aww-shucks grin and slightly squinted eyes – that the applause was something more than mere noise to him. He fed off of it, in some way, it was his sustenance. There were very few things more pleasing to him than to command a room, or in this case, a stadium. He again presented his palms to the crowd, and seemingly used them to physically lower the volume of the cheers before letting them rest at the sides of the lectern.
“Let’s get this over with, okay? None of us want to be here all day. Right?” A brief, small cheer went up from the crowd. “I’m going to keep this really simple for everyone. I grew up in a small town in Indiana. I went to a commuter college and majored in Philosophy. Then, feeling the weight of the real world bearing down on me, and not really knowing how to professionally philosophize, I went on to get my MBA. I’m not going to lie, I hated that time of my life. MBA’s are tough. I stuck with it though, despite some lackluster grades, weeks of sleepless nights, and just a general dissatisfaction with everything. That was when I came up with Line, though, and I owe everything I have to the challenges of that program. It wasn’t the most original idea, I admit, but unlike the social networking sites that had come before it, Line would display our lives in an easily navigable graphical interface instead of just blocks and blocks of text and links.”
He stood there and spoke in an extremely relaxed and comfortable manner. Everything he ever did had an air of naturalism. No words crossed his lips sounding rehearsed. He always spoke extemporaneously, and as a result, no interviewers trying to make their name ever caught him in a corner. No physical tics or missteps disrupted his cadence. This innate charisma and grace gave Dylan the ability to draw the audience in, and convince them that anything he had to say was something that they genuinely needed to hear.
“Aristotle believed that everything consisted of four forms or causes. The material cause, what it was made of. The formal cause, what it looked like. The efficient cause, or how it came to be. And lastly the final cause, which was the purpose. The Greeks called it telos. It is the most important part, because it tells us why something exists. We all know that Line is a website, made of computer code, by our great designers and engineers, and that it has an iconic graphical interface, right?” Faces in the crowd nodded in the affirmative, as though Dylan was giving a religious sermon. “But what’s the purpose, the telos? It’s to connect the people and things that matter most to us. Listen to me, graduates, and future entrepreneurs, especially. Practically everything has been done, and of the things that haven’t been done, the odds of you actually getting there first… It’s just not going to happen. The best idea you can have is a great thing that already exists with a twist that makes it leave the original in the past. Don’t steal anything, but improve everything. And no matter what you come up with, if it doesn’t have a clear telos, it doesn’t stand a chance.
“Line was the rare success. I got it funded and launched in short order, and it caught on in unprecedented fashion. Less than two years from the inception of it, I could have chosen to walk away with more money than anyone could ever spend in a lifetime, and without a care in the world. But I’m not wired like that. I’ve read all the philosophy books, but I still don’t have a clue on how to actually do it. On a more personal level though, I just didn’t want to be the guy who basically hit the lottery, you know? One good idea, and that’s it. I had to prove that I was more than that, even if only to myself.
“About four years ago, I thought of Ellipsis, also known as dot-dot-dot-dot-com.” Dylan paused for the crowd to chuckle in unison. “I’m serious, try it next time, that works. You can used the word ellipsis, the typographical ellipsis, or the word ‘dot’ three times in the URL. They all go to the same place. I really hope all of you graduates are members, because the telos of Ellipsis is figuring out what’s next. Pretty similar to where I was back then, trying to come up with my next big idea, the one that would prove I wasn’t just lucky or a fraud.
“And that brings me to the motivational part of this address. You cannot possibly plan for all of the variables life will throw at you. You think you can, most of you already have your plan all figured out. Or so you think. Show of hands real quick, how many of you have your life planned out already?” Dylan surveyed the graduates, about seventy percent of whom were raising a hand in the air. “Good. Now, you want to know how I know that your best laid plans are all bogus? Because what if it works out perfectly? Ten years from now, you have everything you’ve ever wanted. What then?”
Dylan took a long, exaggerated pause while taking a drink of water from a stainless steel bottle branded with the Fieldy Lands corporate logo printed on its side.
“Nobody ever knows what to do if things go perfectly. The point of a plan is to guide ourselves through a struggle, but if there is no struggle, the plan becomes something more malevolent. It taunts us with its simplicity. A plan without a struggle is the same as driving to a dead end. What happens now? Where to next? It’s just the worst place to be. The fact is that all of you that made big plans, you’re all already expecting an epic struggle. You’re ready to strap on your armor and charge into battle to fight for what you want and to take it by force. You don’t want the plan, you want the fight. It’s always been the fight!”
He allowed the revelation to sink in to the minds of the audience members.
“No matter what you want to do, hope to achieve, plan, whatever, if there’s no struggle involved in it, you will not be fulfilled. Only victories are fulfilling and satisfying, and victories are only possible through adversity and struggle. Countless people play it safe and take the easiest way they can see. Those people aren’t fulfilled. By all accounts they may have succeeded by various measures, but they haven’t won anything. They haven’t conquered. They simply avoided the fight altogether. You can’t claim victory if you don’t show up. That’s just basic. Fundamental. The path to fulfillment is by its very definition difficult. Embrace that notion right now. Accept it as the brute fact of life.
“The counterpoint to that is of course, that in order to succeed, there’s an inherent risk. You risk failing by daring to succeed. If something’s ever such a sure thing that it can’t fail, believe me, there’s no way it can succeed either. I’ve had two smash hits during my life. I literally don’t know how many dollars I have to my name, which, by the way is a wonderful problem to have. But that’s all people focus on. I hold thirty-three individual design patents in my name. Sounds impressive, right? Not when I say that I’ve applied for over three hundred. My two websites have a membership base of nine hundred million users. That’s really impressive, isn’t it? Well, I actually have twenty-two active websites, and over two hundred that have been shut down.
“I came here today, because the administrators believe it’s great for you all to hear about success from a successful person. The headline of the day though is that I’m a huge failure. I fail over and over and over again. I don’t ride off into the sunset though. I refuse to stop trying to succeed despite my failures. Don’t leave here today hoping to be as rich as me, or as famous as me, or as powerful as me. Those things are all bullshit. I serve a board of directors, that’s not power. Ninety percent of people could be set for life with one million dollars, and anything over ten million is just ludicrous. I’ve made ten million dollars in the time I’ve been standing here talking. It’s Monopoly money, and I can’t give it away fast enough. Fame is a euphemism for invasion of privacy. None of you want those things. You want the fight. You want to step into the ring, go toe to toe with adversity and find out once and for all whether you can win or not. You’re going to lose though. That’s just a fact. Ted Williams, the baseball legend, once said that baseball was the only thing where a three out of ten success rate made you great. Baseball and life. You’re going to fail, a lot. Assuming you try at all. Keep trying. If you get your big win, don’t let that define you. Keep trying. You end up like me, two big hits to solidify your legacy, that’s not enough. Keep trying. I’m still trying. It’s hard, every day I think about how hard it is to keep trying to top what I’ve already done. But every day I remember that I do it because it’s hard. Win, lose or draw, I want the fight.”
He stopped speaking and gazed out into the sea of faces. A smattering of applause began, uncertain of whether or not his speech had culminated. Dylan raised his right hand off of the lectern to halt the growing noise.
“Today, for you graduates, is all about answering this question for yourselves; Do I want the fight? To try to help you all get, and stay motivated, take a moment to visit iwantthefight.com later. We built it specifically for you guys, and it will serve as the portal to an exclusive opportunity for you graduates. I’m going to fairy god-mother fifty of you into the fights of your lives. Up for grabs are twenty five full time jobs at Fieldy Lands. Good jobs. No mailroom or gofer garbage. These will go to the most qualified candidates, pending application and interview processes, and are not limited to any particular department or division. You can make up your dream job, and if you prove that you’re the most qualified person for it, and that it would be invaluable to the company, you can have that job.”
The crowd burst into a fervent ovation, willfully denying him the opportunity to continue on in rhythm.
“I know that some of you aren’t interested in starting at the bottom. So, additionally, on the line, will be fifteen investments. If you’ve got an idea, a startup, an art project, a nonprofit, it doesn’t matter what it is. The fifteen best pitches will get funded up to ten million dollars each.”
Once again, the applause derailed him.
“And lastly, ten of you will be given a one million dollar cash prize. You just have to convince me that the way you hope to spend it is more awesome than everyone else. It’s not business money, it’s just cash. You want to have a huge wedding? Show me the budget, and it better include elephants! You want to live the simple life in a remote cabin in the mountains, tell me how the million bucks gets you there. You want to send your parents or grandparents on a trip around the world, show it to me. Whatever you want, it just has to be cool. The catch is, that you’re only allowed to enter into one of the three categories. Choose wisely. If everyone goes for the cash, the odds of getting a nice cushy job will be heavily in your favor. You should all sign up and compete though, one participant chosen at random will receive a five million dollar prize. Go to iwantthefight.com for all the details.”
This time, the audience didn’t applaud or cheer. They simply murmured and buzzed, each person discussing the announcement with those around them.
“In closing, just let me say that I’m honored to be here speaking to you all. Honestly, this is a big deal to me. The Stanford commencement address is like a Silicon Valley hall of fame induction. It means that much to me. The last thing I’d like to point out to you graduates, is that under each of your seats is an envelope with three prepaid credit cards in it. A thousand dollars for each grad, just to get you started on the right foot, and two seven hundred and fifty cards for your parents, in case they had to fly out here or if they want to take you out to a fancy dinner or anything. It’s also symbolic. You guys make my business go. I owe you all so much. So take this token of that, and consider for a minute or two how much you all owe your parents. They deserve a token as well.
“I wish you all well. And just remember that the fight is what matters. If there’s no fight, it’s not worth doing. Congratulations, Cardinals, class of twenty sixteen. Thank you very much.”
The crowd burst into a raucous standing ovation. Graduates were seen hugging each other and giving high fives while discussing the news that had just been revealed to them. Parents wept with joy, whilst the faculty was abuzz with the discussion of the prizes and gifts Dylan had provided. All the while, he stood on the stage, next to the podium waving at the crowd. For as long as there was applause, he would stay there to hear it.