On Thursday July 18th - my Alma Mater De Montfort University were kind enough to give me an Honorary Doctorate. They asked if I would say a few words. Seeking inspiration - I was reminded of the exceptionally moving address given by Randy Pausch with its central theme of find your passion. That resonated with me so well, I made it the theme of my own. To the DMU class of ‘13 - Congratulations!
Honored guests, graduands, proud friends and family,
It is an extraordinary honor to be recognized in this way by my old home, Demontfort University. The academic environment here offers a unique blend of creativity, freedom and guidance that I think I would have struggled to find anywhere else. Whilst I probably didn’t appreciate it at the time - this place was vital in preparing me for the professional adventures I have had, and continue to enjoy.
When I was asked to say a few words I faced a worrying truth - despite my best efforts I’ve been utterly unable to remember either who spoke at my graduation 12 years ago, or a single word they said. By tomorrow as the well deserved parties evolve into hard won hangovers, I expect you won’t remember a word I’ve said either. Hopefully one theme, in my mind the most important thing I’ve ever learned, will stick with you. And it is, quite simply this. Follow your passion. Let me explain….
Truthfully, when I graduated, my enthusiasm for what was then multimedia design, what I had spent 3 years obsessing over and Mike Powell and his colleagues had worked so hard to teach me - was verging on being irreparably eroded. I’d got a little bored with it…as my final year grades will testify. It’s OK…I safely escaped with an Upper Second. My classmates and I faced an uncertain future. We were blinded by the economic shrapnel of the dot com bubble burst. We would send out CVs and Portfolios to prospective employers who were declared bankrupt before they even had time to open the envelope.
I now had a piece of paper in my hand to prove to the world I was good at something…I had no idea what to do with it. I realized very quickly that I needed to apply these newly learned skills to something I cared about. That’s not easy. Fate rarely hands you a simple route to the intersection of your passions or interests, and your abilities. In short - what you are good at rarely sits squarely with what you passionately care about.
I have always been fascinated by space exploration since my father bought me a small telescope back in the 1980s . ‘Up there’ there persists a form of exploration where most of the maps we draw still have room for ‘Not yet explored‘ or ‘Here be dragons‘ - and just when we think we’ve got a place all figured out, a new mission starts finding hundreds of worlds around other stars and the capacity for raw exploration is reborn. The data that our robotic envoys generate vastly outweighs the scientistic communities ability to process it. I spent my evenings and weekends using my skills and applying them to what I actually gave a damn about - taking that data and making it mean something. Making it look good. Making it tell a story. That’s what I still do to this day. It’s now my day job..and I STILL spend my evenings and weekends scratching an occasional creative itch with a new piece of data.
I couldn’t find someone to pay me to do it - but my creative sanity remained intact because I just damn well kept on doing it. I made animations. I created panoramas and mosaics from raw data. I applied as much professionalism to them as I could. I was my own worst critic. People took notice. They saw what I was doing. Almost via digital osmosis the people I am now lucky to call my colleagues were seeing what I could do and how it could be useful to them. At times the light at the end of the tunnel didn’t seem dim and distant…the tunnel looked like it was bricked up. I would have internal arguments - am I chasing something realistic. Is this dream of mine achievable. That doubt, those internal tensions - it was my passion for space exploration that got me to the other end. It would drive me to do something new, something creative, smash that bricked up tunnel and see the light again at the end of it.
Some of you may be lucky. You might have already found your passion. Many of you probably haven’t. If you’re not sure….then trust me - you’ve not found it yet. But you will. It might take a long time, but eventually you will. Once you do - never ever stop chasing it. There is literally nowhere it wont be able to take you.
There is a beautiful quote from the late great American science fiction writer Ray Bradbury
“First you jump off the cliff and you build your wings on the way down.”
Over the past few years you’ve had the chance at De montfort to put together the tools and parts you need to build those wings. You have been climbing to the top of a cliff. But the instruction manual? How to do what comes next? That’s up to you. That’s your passion. Find it. Trust it and it will show you exactly what to do.
For those of you graduating today - it’s time to make that jump. Good luck - and happy landings.