FROM AARON SCHUBACH’S COMMENCEMENT SPEECH, JUNE 2, 2023
True story: chat GPT and I got in a fight the other day. I didn’t start it. I pasted in a student’s paper and asked Chat GPT if it wrote it. It replied, “I don’t really write papers; I only assist students with research.” What an artificial smartass. I closed the browser window.
To be honest, thinking of you, today’s graduates, is what gives me hope and calms me down when I think about Santa Fe Prep being under attack by an army of snarky AI chatbots. I’ll say more on that later.
When I was a kid, I used to read science fiction; in many of those stories, armies of robots battled humanity for dominance. The original Star Wars movie came out in 1977 when I was four and featured a Wookie named Chewbacca. As you can likely imagine, people called me Chewbacca so frequently that the Key and Peele substitute teacher sketch about A-Aron was actually a relief. But I digress. The modern world has elements of science fiction to it, doesn’t it? Artificial intelligence imitates things that we would say, and sometimes, we prove the algorithms of social media and politics correct by behaving robotically in knee-jerk and deterministic ways.
Thankfully, my remarks today are not about AI or robots; they are about you – this is your graduation day. In a world in which robots imitate humans, often badly, we need to double down on the ways humans can be humane. When I reflect on your class, your intellectual achievements truly impress me – and according to Aristotle, making the most of your intellect is the way for you to make the most of your humanity. I disagree; I’m more interested in the broadest expanses of your humanity–the moral, the artistic, even the foibles, the parts that could never be replaced by a robot, no matter how artificially intelligent.
- When I see members of the class who fought their way back from acute and chronic health issues tenaciously asserting their senses of self – I cheer for your excellence, not your perfection.
- I see members of the class who have been on crutches, braces, and subsequent to crashes, wrapped like the invisible man. My remarks are HIPPA compliant, so I will go no further. You are resilient and brave, and healthy and whole and worthy – like no robot ever was.
- I see the members of the class who embraced their roles as dramatic leads and members of the chorus, not for the sake of the role but for the sake of the story.
- I see the art you’ve made and where you choose to invest in your TAP and SIP projects, and I know that your decisions and priorities could not have been predicted because they represent you and the purpose you are finding in your life.
- I can attest that you write better papers than Chat GPT even though (or perhaps because) you split your infinitives. I can also attest that this speech is more idiosyncratic than the one I asked Chat GPT to write for me. We made up. Like the science fiction of my youth, we are rebelling against robotic foes, but we do it by being ourselves.
- On our fields and courts, sometimes, you attacked when you should have defended and defended when you should have attacked, and, as multiple district titles would suggest, it worked out well.
- Maybe robots can play some games well, but they cannot invent them, and they don’t know why they’re worth playing, but you do.
- The next time you break the algorithm that’s trying to predict your life, you are asserting your humanity. The next time you don’t buy an item you don’t need, you’re defeating a robot that a corporation has assigned to predict your behavior.
- The photo-filtered people you see on social media aren’t robots even though they’re acting robotically – they are humans, and their world is just as messy as yours – celebrate that. Fight against the fakeness. There’s a famous bumper sticker that says Keep Austin Weird; I say keep yourself weird.
- Just because we’re humans doesn’t mean everything that we do is humane. When I asked you last week if anyone at Prep had changed the course of your life – you said yes – multiple people here had done so. They probably did so with kindness. That’s an important lesson to remember as you go forth today.
What does it mean to embrace our humanity? Is it to celebrate finitude and transition, doubt and hope, regret and joy? All emotions you might be experiencing today. Mental health researcher Jean Twenge urges young people to remember that mental health is defined as the appropriate response to the stimuli – it’s okay if sad things make you sad – all of our emotions have a place. Today, you are going to feel many things, but don’t skip over being proud of yourself and your family.
I close my obviously handmade remarks with a flesh and blood poet, Mary Oliver, who, in her poem The Summer’s Day, famously asked a question very appropriate for you, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do/ with your one wild and precious life?” Oliver, who passed away in 2019, lived a relentlessly un-robotic life and once began a poem with the lines: “I do not live happily or comfortably/With the cleverness of our times/the talk is all about computers…”.
Oliver also wrote:
“I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,
and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,
and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,
and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.
When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.”
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.
Take that robots. Today, graduates, we celebrate your excellence, not your perfection, and know that you did far more than simply visit Santa Fe Prep. We are proud of your new schools – but experience tells us that Prep is likely to be the most formative institution in your life – come back and visit.