2021 USC Commencement Address
Eric Schulze, PhD
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“A cosmic service”
- Remarks As Prepared -
Good tidings to each graduate, to your loved ones who have supported you, and to the mentors who have trained you. Congratulations.
We, as a species, are of no particular cosmological importance and yet here we sit - sentient and rational. I said ten years ago on this very stage that we are temporary areas of low-entropy: We are collections of atoms, born of elements forged in the nuclear furnaces of our nearest stars. Life exists because of the silent, violent deaths of millions of ancient stars, and the world we have built, conquered, and will continue to explore is predicated upon the diaspora of these stellar remains. You and everyone you have ever known are made of star stuff.
Everything that we know, our planet, our lives, our bodies, our memories, are made from these stellar nurseries - the same materials as the riverstone, the same as the sun and moon, and yet, we somehow are all able to sit here and experience it.
Why does this matter today, as you turn and face the wind yet again? Because you are sentient and rational. Your particular atomic arrangement is unique enough to be assigned purpose *that changes*. More than that, you each are a beautiful, transient collection of atoms that can *self-assign* purpose. The sun can only shine, but you? You can willingly change.
So, it is not the fact that you are here that makes this moment remarkable - it is that you have chosen this trade, this purpose, - science, we call it - which makes you honorable and unique. The profession of science, which requires you to question the very fabric of reality every day to tease the weft of our cosmos into understanding, is not just a job. Professional Science is a Cosmological Service, and you graduates are our next, most promised stewards of reality and the future.
Science is service to the unknown and the unborn. Science is your chance to always do the right thing - to cause the next paradigm shift, to tilt reality back into balance, to prevent pandemics, and to build innovation that knocks down walls between humans rather than inventing yet another one to further isolate us. And having built a career working across academia and the private and public sectors, I see a distinct future for science that differs from the one we see today, one that reflects the abilities in the newest generation of humans unique from those before.
You will move professional science towards expertise in multiple domains - equally competent in all rather than hyperspecial in just one field. As we face continued climate crises, you will use tomorrow's knowledge to build bridges to our past, allowing us to cherish our most important human traditions while inventing new ones for the future to enjoy.
And I am here to say today that we need you, my fellow explorers of the unseen and unknown. To continue our work: From Ignorance to convention to exploration to paradigm shift. This model is what allows humans to tease at the weft of the cosmic tapestry.
In short, I wish you all the best of luck in your journey across this universe. And I will tell you, you can do it. I am proof that you don’t need to be particularly smart or talented, proof that you don’t need to be born into wealth nor have any ability beyond insatiable curiosity and an appetite for wonder. Beyond this, you’ll need your loved ones, your grit, and your empathy.
My name is Dr. Eric Schulze, and, today, like every day, I am at your service. It is my hope that each of you will continue to choose the righteous path that is service to this cosmos - to help us continue to understand ourselves as a part of it by looking back, finding the guard rails of reality, and using those collectively broad, curious shoulders to stand higher, look further, and do more.
To the graduates here today, I hope that in ten years at least one of you will return to this stage to tell us how you’ve built the world to be a more wondrous place.
And to everyone watching from home in your sweat pants, I say to you, ‘ad astra.’ Congratulations again.