Jeff Bezos made a wonderful Baccalaureate Address at Princeton University today. The Baccalaureate Address is one of Princeton's oldest traditions. He discussed his childhood and how he made the decision to found Amazon.com in 1994. Here's a copy of the speech "We are What We Choose".
"In her introduction of Bezos, Princeton President Shirley M. Tilghman praised him as "a dreamer and doer, entrepreneur and engineer" and "refreshingly unassuming even in the face of unimaginable success." She also lauded him for "his exceptional ability to marry commerce and technology in creative ways" and "his sheer inventiveness and willingness to take the risks inherent in this process." princeton.edu
Bezos described his boss' reaction [when he mentioned the idea of starting his company]: "He took me on a long walk in Central Park, listened carefully to me, and finally said, 'That sounds like a really good idea, but it would be an even better idea for someone who didn't already have a good job,'" Bezos said.
He spun a yarn about his grandparents that ended with a lesson: "My grandfather looked at me, and after a bit of silence, he gently and calmly said, "Jeff, one day you'll understand that it's harder to be kind than clever."
Speaking to packed audiences of graduates and families around the idyllic Princeton campus blessed with perfect weather, he asked many philosophical questions such as:
"How will you use your gifts? What choices will you make?
Will inertia be your guide, or will you follow your passions?
Will you follow dogma, or will you be original?
Will you choose a life of ease, or a life of service and adventure?
Will you wilt under criticism, or will you follow your convictions?
Will you bluff it out when you're wrong, or will you apologize?
Will you guard your heart against rejection, or will you act when you fall in love?
Will you play it safe, or will you be a little bit swashbuckling?
When it's tough, will you give up, or will you be relentless?
Will you be a cynic, or will you be a builder?
Will you be clever at the expense of others, or will you be kind?"
He encouraged them in his conclusion with the words: "We are our choices. Build yourself a great story".
Bezos graduated from Princeton in 1986 with highest honors and his wife, novelist Mackenzie Tuttle Bezos graduated in 1992.