I recently had the honor of delivering the commencement address to the graduating class at Khartoum International Community School. They are a wonderful group of young people, blessed with so much potential and benefitting from considerable privilege and opportunity. My question to them was this: with all this opportunity and talent what are you going to do with it?
“So what makes you so important? Actually, you aren’t, at least not yet. You are important to other people, but you are not important to the world just yet. The world doesn’t know who you are – and you know what? It pretty much doesn’t care. The world owes you nothing. You are here tonight for the most part because of an accident of birth. Because of a biological miracle, in a global population of 7.5 billion people, you have been able to access opportunities that millions of people your age can only dream of. Just imagine the odds. If you assume roughly 10% are your age that is 750 million. Ranked by income, you are actually in the top 1% of that 750 million. You are seriously privileged.
So your task – as one of top 1% by income, with all the opportunities, resources and inequality that brings – is to figure out how to make the world sit up and listen. Steve Jobs talked about putting a ding in the universe. You need to find your ding. Nobody will find it for you. Nobody will come running and present you with options.
Let’s face it, the deck is already stacked and it’s stacked in your direction. But whether or not you become important to the world is not about being in the so-called top 1%. That’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that becoming important to the world is about what you WILL do, not what you were born into or what you’ve done until now. Your importance in the world isn’t a given. It isn’t just waiting for you. Your importance isn’t defined because of who your parents are, or how much money or status you think you have.
But here’s the thing: if you decide NOT to do what it takes to become important to the world. If you decide to sit back, just enjoy the 1% opportunities and just let life do its thing from your place at the table, looking down on the other 99% of the planet and just feeling relieved that you aren’t one of them looking up, then why are you even here? What is your life actually for?
So this is my parting gift of advice to you: be better, be intentional and be a change maker. Be better than me and my generation, who wish we could have given you a world with far fewer problems and many more reasons to be hopeful. Be intentional about how you live your life, the values you live by, the relationships you make and the decisions you take. And above all else, be someone who makes a positive, constructive, meaningful and lasting change in the world. The world may not know who you are – or care – right now. Members of the KICS Class of 2017, your job is to change its mind”.