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05-17-1998

Cyberspace Visionary Esther Dyson And Father, Physicist Freeman Dyson, Address Clarkson University Graduates

There is a JPEG image of the Dysons receiving their degrees at http://www.clarkson.edu/news/photos/dysons.jpg

Potsdam, N.Y. -- Celebrating its 105th commencement, Clarkson University today awarded bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees to nearly 700 students from 24 states, 16 countries and 52 of New York's counties. Four thousand parents, relatives and friends attended the ceremony.dysons

Five people received honorary doctor of science degrees and addressed the students with short messages: Cyberspace visionary and author Esther Dyson, chairman of EDventure Holdings; her father, Physicist and author Freeman J. Dyson; Rudolf Zahradnik, president of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic and professor of physical chemistry at Charles University in Prague; Roger W. Sant, chairman of the board of the AES Corporation and chair of the board of the World Wildlife Fund U.S.; and Frank M. Rotunno, president and founder of United Sales Concepts.

Freeman J. Dyson's address to Clarkson University graduates on May 17, 1998:

Well, it's wonderful to be the father of the famous Dyson.

I always said that the three most important things in my life are family, friends and work– in that order. So I'm delighted and grateful that you gave us the chance to be together on this happy occasion and also together with many other members of our families– who are here and scattered around– in Potsdam.

The little story I'm going to tell you today is about friendship. I'm asked to describe in two minutes a significant personal experience that you might remember after you leave Clarkson. So here it is.

We spent the day celebrating with a crowd of his friends and colleagues. Then we said good bye. He flew to Paris into permanent exile to escape from further persecution.

He is one of the world's great scientists– American born with a Nobel Prize in medicine for his discovery of the cause and cure of kuru, a neurological disease that was wiping out native populations in New Guinea.

He is a hero everywhere, except in the United States. The United States put him in jail because he was convicted of child abuse. He adopted 60 kids, most of them orphans whose parents had died of the disease kuru, that he discovered. He brought the kids to the United States and paid for their housing and for their education.

Four of his adopted kids, now grown up and doing well, stood with us to welcome him at the jail. Only two out of the sixty failed to do well. Those two were persuaded by overzealous lawyers to bring charges against him.

In the '30s and '50's we dishonored people by calling them communists. Three hundred years earlier we destroyed them by calling them witches. Now we dishonor them by calling them child abusers. In all these cases, monstrous injustice was done under a pretense of justice.

The saddest thing is not the injustice itself, but the cowardice of the bystanders who do not lift a finger to help the victims.

So, please, all of you, remember this little story the next time one of your friends is accused of being a witch, or a communist, or a child abuser. They need your help all the more, if they don't happen to have Nobel Prizes.

Thank you.

Thank you very much to President Brown, trustees, faculty, students, students' friends and family. I'm very pleased to be here, especially since I didn't actually attend my own college graduation– which is a long story that I won't go into.

What I'd like to do today is leave you with my motto and deconstruct it for you in two minutes.

The motto is "Always make new mistakes." Now let me explain briefly what I mean by that.

It means don't make the same old mistakes. Don't do the same dumb thing twice. But don't be afraid to experiment. Stand up for your friends. Trust people. They may turn out not to be trustworthy, but if you never trusted them, you'll never know.

I ran a company once that failed. I had to lay off 27 people. I learned a lot from that. I also learned who my true friends were because they showed up afterwards. And I restarted my career and actually had a lot more fun because after that I wasn't scared of failure anymore.

And so, the message here is "enjoy life." Your first job may not be ideal. Chances are it won't be. But you'll probably learn something from it that will make you better in choosing your second job, and your third, and your fourth, and your fifth.

In the world you're heading into, as several of the speakers said already, things change– there's voice mail, e-mail, serial careers... The chances that you'll do the right thing the first time don't exist. But the fact is almost anything you do, you can learn from.

So don't clutch, and wonder what would have happened if I didn't do this. I went to Russia in 1989, which meant I didn't go to China. What would have happened if I'd gone to China? I'll never know. But I did change my life for the better, by going to Russia.

So, thank you very much and good luck.

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Michael P. Griffin, director of News & Digital Content Services, at 315-268-6716 or mgriffin@clarkson.edu.]

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