Reed Hastings urges Class of 2022 to harness the power of inventions and stories
Reed Hastings, Stanford alum and co-founder of Netflix, encouraged graduates to harness the power of inventions and stories to drive societal change.
Stanford’s Class of 2022 can look to the power of inventions and stories to drive human progress and address urgent issues facing the world such as climate change, Commencement speaker and Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings told the graduating class.
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“Inventions and stories. One is about harnessing the natural world; the other is about harnessing the human spirit,” he said. “One is about generating more power and prosperity; the other about generating large-scale human cooperation. Both are avenues for progress.”
Hastings addressed some 17,000 attendees, including graduates, their families, and friends Sunday morning in Stanford Stadium during the university’s 131st Commencement ceremony. Hastings was unable to attend in person due to a last-minute positive test for COVID-19 but provided his remarks via a recording and watched the ceremony’s livestream.
“I have to say, two years in, the pandemic continues to throw curveballs,” said President Marc Tessier-Lavigne. “But fortunately we’re all very practiced now connecting over technology when we can’t be together in person and pivoting when COVID interferes.”
Hastings, an entrepreneur and philanthropist, co-founded Netflix, which has revolutionized the entertainment industry. He also has provided extensive personal and financial support for education initiatives.
Hastings is a Stanford alum, earning an MS in artificial intelligence in 1988. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Bowdoin College.
Be the best version of yourself
In his remarks to the Class of 2022 graduates, Tessier-Lavigne emphasized the importance of adaptability, something Stanford students came to experience all too well after the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted undergraduates’ sophomore year and forced them to find new ways of learning and working together.
“All of us learned a hard-won lesson in disruption and adaptability in how our world can change in an instant and in how every one of us is called on to adapt throughout our lives,” Tessier-Lavigne said.
Tessier-Lavigne went on to describe how life is lived in chapters – distinct eras experienced throughout life formed by sudden and unexpected twists and turns.
He recounted the life stories of two Stanford alums – Milt McColl, ’81, and Sylvia Jones, ’93 – who are showing how one never knows what life can bring. McColl was a football player for the San Francisco 49ers and then a successful entrepreneur in the health care industry; now, he is a family care doctor treating patients in underserved communities. Jones has been a TV producer, a caregiver, and now, an Emmy-award winning screenwriter in Hollywood.
“The important thing about these examples is this: We each have this ability to pivot through the years, to use our skills in new and different ways, to find new meaning and to help solve the problems that our world faces,” Tessier-Lavigne said. “Let me be clear: Each of you has that ability to pivot. I know, because each of you had to pivot as the pandemic upended your plans, yet you pushed through to complete your studies and graduate today.”
Tessier-Lavigne also offered thoughts about the foundation graduates built during their time at Stanford, including the importance of lifelong learning and the value of holding space for diverse and at times competing viewpoints.
“Honor your own values but keep an open mind to learning from others’ perspectives and continue to bring the best version of yourself to these discussions,” Tessier-Lavigne said.
Tessier-Lavigne also asked graduates to imagine a brighter future and to figure out how they can respond to some of the world’s most pressing issues, whether it be emerging and chronic diseases, disinformation, the climate crisis, or geopolitical tensions.
“Each of you has the knowledge and the ability to rise to these challenges and to help transform our world for the better for your own future and for the generations that follow,” Tessier-Lavigne said.
Inventions and stories
While Hastings initially joked that he was asked to speak at Commencement only to share Netflix recommendations (he recommended Hustle and Heartstopper), he soon delved into weighty reflections on inventions and stories in advising graduates on the next stage of their lives.
“Inventions – meaning broadly all of science and technology – are the most obvious way society moves forward,” Hastings said. He’s always been drawn to inventions, he said, though results have been mixed.
As a grad student at Stanford 35 years ago, he nearly dropped out to build a company that would address the inefficiency of moving a hand back and forth between a keyboard and mouse, The Foot Mouse Company. Luckily, the early prototype saved him, he said, as it was found that legs cramp after 20 or 30 minutes of using a foot mouse, and the mouse quickly became gross after a few days of use on the floor.
So, he remained at Stanford and graduated, but he didn’t give up on new ideas.
Prior to Netflix, Hastings founded Pure Software, which made tools for software developers and was later acquired by Rational Software. A former member of the California State Board of Education, he currently serves on the board of several educational organizations, including KIPP, a nonprofit network of free public charter schools that largely serve Black and Latino students from low-income families, and Pahara, which supports sustainability, diversity, and quality of leadership for education reform.
While many graduates will invent all kinds of things, Hastings said he really hopes many of them will focus on an area that needs urgent attention: climate change.
“The looming crisis, it can feel overwhelming, but I’m confident your generation will find a way to invent our way out of the greenhouse,” he said.
While those at Stanford, nestled in Silicon Valley, are already aware of the power of invention, the power of story may be less obvious, Hastings said.
“You all know many stories – from Animal Farm to Silent Spring and perhaps Don’t Look Up. But today I’m going to talk about the broader notion of a story: creative ideas that we mostly accept as fact, and that have helped us cooperate at great scale to move humanity forward,” he said.
Some stories – such as assigning value to a piece of paper to form money – are such useful collective narratives that they become accepted facts. Other stories, like inventions, can be destructive. For example, the story that Black people were subhuman and could be enslaved by white people for profit.
“That’s why any story we hear – especially when it is widely accepted – should trigger something else: doubt,” Hastings said. “Take time every day to examine different beliefs, and stay skeptical. Doubt is an essential counterbalance to story, and one we should keep developing as we struggle to become more independent thinkers and better human beings.”
Hastings said he hopes the graduates create a story that “provides the moral backbone to an era of common prosperity for both the very lucky and less lucky,” and that changes how people behave toward one another. He also hopes graduates find a story of interdependence for preventing war.
“The changes to the world since Stanford was founded have been tremendous, and it’s only going to speed up,” Hastings told graduates. “So that gives you a lot of opportunity and a lot of risk, for you and humanity. As the world speeds up, will our wax wings melt? Or will we bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice?”
In closing, he reminded graduates of the story of the tortoise and the hare, noting that some will be one or the other. For the hares, stay grounded with your early success, he advised, and for the tortoises, embrace it and don’t despair, as “you have the rest of your life to create the inventions and stories the world needs.”
Alluding to the sculptor Michelangelo, Hastings told the Class of 2022: “Graduates, carve your marble blocks until you release the invention or story that is yearning to breathe. I know you can do it. You grew up on the Farm.”
‘A dream come true’
Lea Rysavy of Hood River, Oregon, received her bachelor’s degree in human biology on Sunday and held a sign for the student-led safety initiative 5-SURE on Foot, which Rysavy co-directed for two years.
“I’m thinking mostly about the communities that meant a lot to me and the organizations I’ve really put time into,” she said in reflecting on her time at Stanford. “And just watching myself grow and watching everyone grow along with me has been very rewarding.”
Arjan Walia of Los Angeles received his bachelor’s degree in history. He’ll be returning next year for a coterminal degree “so it’s a little more sweet than bitter” to graduate, and he thanked his parents for making it happen. Walia said his friends and “being in strong communities” marked his time at Stanford. Walia participated in the Stanford Band, and although he’s not Native, he was very involved with the Native community, “two very strong communities with amazing people,” he said. “They’ve been family. It’s a little bit abbreviated because of COVID. Still, it’s been great.”
Alum Megan DeLamar Schroeder, BA ’86, came Sunday to see her twin daughters, Frances and Eleanor Schroeder, graduate. “It’s just a dream come true, magical,” she said. “And the weather’s nice. They’re getting their Wacky Walk costumes on, and it’s so bittersweet because of the pandemic. It’s like all the feelings of a normal graduation on steroids.”
Provost Persis Drell presented the Gores, Dinkelspiel, and Cuthbertson Awards. The inaugural President’s Award for the Advancement of the Common Good was presented to alumni Jimmy Chin, BS ’10, and Camara Phyllis Jones, MD ’81.
The ceremony included the Stanford Chamber Chorale performing “America, the Beautiful” and the “Stanford Hymn.” The Rev. Dr. Tiffany Steinwert, dean for religious and spiritual life, delivered the invocation, and Rabbi Laurie Hahn Tapper, associate dean for religious and spiritual life, gave the benediction. Graduates Emily Elliott of the Chinook Nation and Brentley Sandlin of the Cherokee Nation delivered the land acknowledgement.
In all, Stanford issued 1,594 bachelor’s degrees, 2,371 master’s degrees, and 1,124 doctoral degrees. Of those receiving bachelor’s degrees, 286 graduated with departmental honors and 275 with university distinction. Also, 132 have satisfied the requirements of more than one major, 35 graduated with dual bachelor’s degrees, 526 completed minors, and 291 graduated with both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree.
A total of 272 members of the undergraduate class came from 70 countries, and 106 countries were represented by the 1,475 international students who received their master’s and doctoral degrees.