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|Enrique Godreau 81 was the featured speaker at the 2001 First-Year Convocation ceremony Aug. 26. The text of his speech follows:
Value and Values
President Jackson, faculty, staff, administrators, distinguished guests, and students, thank you for inviting me to spend this time with you. What a sincere pleasure and honor it is for me to help welcome the Class of 2005 to the Rensselaer family. Simply by virtue of your being here, you have distinguished yourselves as one of the brightest and most promising students in the world. Congratulations on realizing this impressive accomplishment. I can tell you from personal experience that the institutes reputation in industry and academia is one of the very best in the world.
Over the past several weeks, as I prepared the remarks I will share with you today, my mind raced in many, many different directions. I thought about all the things that I learned while at Rensselaer. I thought about all the things I first did here. I thought about all the people I met. My memories are deep, rich, and I treasure them fondly.
But being a tinkerer at heartI mean, after all, Class of 2005, isnt that why we are all hereI went on to think, Boy, if I knew then what I know now, I wonder what impact that would have had on my life? It is that thought more than any other that has guided me in preparing for today, to share some insights that might inform your experience while at Rensselaer. A colleague once told me, Good judgment comes from experience, but experience comes from bad judgment. In that spirit, you may or may not immediately relate to what I have to say, but I suspect that in time, some of you will.
The two key themes I would like to chat with you about today are really quite simple, but I spend every day of my life trying to live up to them. The two themes are Value and Values. What is value? Value to me is meeting or exceeding expectations with the allocated resources. Sometimes, we are in the position of delivering value. At other times we are receiving value. Eating at a restaurant, building or buying a new home, evaluating an executives performanceall of these activities have value that can be assessed. There is an infinite number of ways to measure value, and often it is subjective.
Values on the other hand, define the character of an individual. They define the motivation, process, and intention of the actions we take. Integrity, passion, complacency are all values that manifest themselves in the way we lead our lives. Our values are molded by our personal experiences and play an enormous role in what we do and how we do it.
Pretty simple words really, value and values. But oh so tremendously relevant to who we become.
At 16 years old, I came to Rensselaer in 1977 from the Bronx, New York, primarily because I enjoyed science and math in high school and thought this would be a good way to make a better life for myself, and for my family. Now at 40, I think back on that time and feel fortunate that I followed a hunch, attended Rensselaer, and in the process, dramatically changed my life, and that of my family.
My time at Rensselaer was truly a period of personal discovery. On the academic side, and over time this will come as no surprise to anyone here, I gained a very strong foundation in science and mathematics. I learned to analyze problems, to focus on the unknowns, and to develop and implement strategies to answer key questions. Though unbeknownst to me at the time, I was learning how to add value at a whole other level.
But, I also learned many things outside of the classroom. I learned to be much more social, and truly began to understand that no man is an island, and that the really important things in life happen when people interact with each other. More on this later, but the point is that I began to expand and develop my own values. I came here with a healthy set of values, many of which define who I am to this very day. But, because I was on my own, spending more and more time in circles and communities of my own choosing, those experiences, which were increasingly informed by my judgment, directly influenced my personal values. The foundation, however, came from my family.
To the students of the Class of 2005, this convocation welcomes you to Rensselaer and also celebrates your transition from one stage of your life to another. This celebration is about you. But it should also be a celebration of your elders: of your mother, your father, your grandmother, your uncle, your sister, your neighborall of those special people in your lives that have loved you and cared for you and prepared you to the point where you are now ready to address a new set of challenges. Students, faculty, and staff, please join me in recognizing the many, many years of effort exerted by these families to get this freshman class to this point.
As a student, I was pretty active in the Rensselaer community. I served as president of the class and senator for two years. I was a co-founder of the Latin Students Association, the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, the backgammon club, the domino club, and even learned to skydive leading to a jaunt down to Florida in a Cessna 206 to represent us in a national competition. Overall, I feel I received a pretty well-rounded collegiate experience.
In spite of all the value I received while at Rensselaer, there is one key lesson that, to be honest, I did not learn very well. As a computer scientist, my education transpired in a world of logic. Binary numbers, ones and zerosvery elegant and quite simple, really. But, while my profession may be very logical, the world at largesurprise, surpriseis not. The lesson I missed while here is that value is always delivered in context. And in order to be truly successful, one must be very aware of and have access to the right context. That is, access to the right situations and people. After Rensselaer, I joined Xerox in Rochester, N.Y., with a goal of finding a way to get to the companys renowned Palo Alto Research Center. After three years in Rochester, I moved to Palo Alto and spent the next seven years on the research staff at PARC. It turns out I did the right thing, but mostly because I thought it would be a cool thing to do and I did this without seeking much external guidance.
One of the biggest lessons I know now, that I wish I knew when I was a student here, is that along with learning to be a computer scientist, I should have spent more time learning how to be more effective at nurturing multiple contexts and networking with people. Today, my classmates from 20 years ago are some of my closest friends, they are my co-workers, and in some cases they are even family. But I should have leveraged the experiences of our alumni much, much more. The journey you are embarking on today is one that has been completed many times over. You need to capitalize on the insights of those that have gone before you. I urge you to take advantage of the many ways that you can access your alumni. The Office of Alumni Relations has created many ways for alumni to directly interact with you from day one. Alumni can have a very positive influence on you by sharing their Rensselaer experiences and conceivably play a significant role in helping to shape your career, as well as your life.
Let me now shift your attention from the topic of value to the issue of values. I have two observations I would like to share with you. The first relates to Rensselaers mottoknowledge and thoroughness. My partners at Voyager Capital and I believe that these words represent such a powerful concept that we have made it one of our firms core values. To me, this motto represents the ideal that excellence requires complete awareness of all relevant issues. Much like an athlete trains so that the actual competition can be reduced to an almost trivial event, so should the drive to understand the essence of any subject be. At Voyager, when we consider making an investment in a private information technology company, we make sure to go 5 whys deep. It is like a small child incessantly asking Why? Mistakes in venture capital are usually very expensive. Mistakes made in the disciplines several of you are pursuing can ultimately be fatal.
When I was at Rensselaer, the pressure to succeed at times overwhelmed my thoroughness, and compromised the depth of my understanding in certain things that I learned. Now that I have a bit more experience, I believe that not striving for 5 whys is, in practice, not a particularly interesting compromise. And for me personally, not very much fun. To be the best, you simply have to strive for absolute knowledge and extreme thoroughness. You may not get there, but you have to try. There is no other option. As you begin your studies at Rensselaer, I urge you to breathe life into this motto and make it your own. I sincerely believe you will never regret it.
My second observation on the issue of values has to do with the pace of life. My, oh my, how quickly things are changing. In a recent piece on NPR, the broadcaster reminded the audience that not too long ago many generations of families came and went without experiencing a single innovation in their lifetimes. Today, on seemingly a daily basis, new scientific discoveries are made, our understanding of ourselves and the world around is expanded, and new products are brought to market. We should pause and reflect on the fact that the current rate of change of innovation is in fact itself, an innovation.
As a result of the careers many of you will choose to pursue, you will find yourselves at the very nexus of these innovations. And if you heed my previous advice, you will strive to be knowledgeable and thorough. And the rate of innovation will demand that you invest more time in order to remain at the forefront of your field. This will in turn tax your ability to attend to other matters in your life. Here is where you must establish a set of values to help you keep your balance.
One of the hardest things I do on a regular basis is try to balance my personal and family time, my community time, and my career. Each of you will have different tensions impacting your lives. If left unmanaged, these forces have the ability to turn into very stressful situations. For the next four years, I expect that most of you will be keenly focused on completing your undergraduate education. But it is not too early to start figuring out whats really important to you, establishing some guidelines, and managing your time before it starts managing you.
And while we are on the topic of innovation, let me conclude by telling you how excited I am about the future, about your future. In every field and across the industrialized world, the opportunities to dramatically impact the human condition are simply astonishing. In my field of information technology, innovations in the areas of optical networking, infiniband, and fast wireless networks that let us be connected from anywhere and everywherethese are some of the innovations right around the corner that have the potential to profoundly impact all of us.
The CEO of one of the worlds largest banks shared an insight with me that I have taken to heart and I would like to share with you. He told me that when he began his career, he defined success by one thingmoney. After working hard for many decades and amassing all the capital he needed, his definition of success changed. The one thing he then coveted above all else was time. Now, to be honest, neither of these goals really surprised me. In my view, these are fairly common goals, and after all, he was a banker. But once he was able to leverage his wealth to free up his time, the one thing he then coveted above all else was the ability to spend his time with the people he loved and cared for and that were ultimately the most important in his life. Goal number three is difficult to execute well, but exceptionally rewarding. With that, I will conclude my remarks, simultaneously congratulate and welcome the Class of 2005 to the Rensselaer family, and give you your time back so we can get on with practicing goal number three after todays Convocation. Thank you for your time and attention, and once again, congratulations.
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