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151st Commencement address by Sen. Mark Kirk

May  25, 2011

Augustana College 151st Commencement address by U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Illinois, May 22, 2011

Thank you, President Bahls, for your invitation to this 151st Commencement Convocation.

Augustana was founded in 1860, when America was on the verge of big changes with a new president from Illinois. Sound familiar?

Change is coming in this century and much more rapidly. My presence as your new junior senator shows that. In 2008, we overwhelmingly elected our Democratic senator from Illinois. Yet just two years later, the same voters in the same state narrowly elected a Republican to replace him.

Change is what I want to focus on today. All the indications are that you will trigger and witness more change than any generation in history.

Fail to understand this and you may get hurt. Master it, and you lay the foundation for your own success — and America's. We have already seen profound — geometric change. Estimates are that before the invention of agriculture, the human economy slowly doubled every 250,000 years. Through the Roman Empire and Renaissance, it doubled every 900 years. In the early Industrial Revolution, it doubled every 25 years — once a generation.

Today, China's economy doubles every eight years.

Regarding the future — your future — consider this from Did You Know by Fisch, McLood and Brenman:

  • China will soon become the No. 1 English-speaking country in the world.
  • The 25% of India's population with the highest IQ's... is greater than the total population of the United States.
  • The top 10 in-demand jobs in 2010...did not exist in 2004.
  • The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that today's learner will have 10-14 jobs... by the age of 38.
  • 1 out of 8 couples married in the U.S. last year met online.
  • In 2006, there were 2.7 billion Google searches for the whole year. Last year, there were 31 billion per month. To whom were these questions addressed B.G.? (Before Google).
  • The first commercial text message was sent in December of 1992. Today, the number of text messages sent and received every day exceeds the total population of the planet.

Think about the deployment of new technology. We can measure it by the number of years it took to reach a market audience of 50 million:

  • Radio: 38 years
  • TV: 13 years
  • Internet: 4 years
  • iPod: 3 years
  • Facebook: 2 years
  • The number of internet devices in 1984 was 1,000. The number of internet devices in 1992 was 1,000,000. The number of internet devices in 2008 was 1,000,000,000.
  • There are about 540,000 words in the English language. About 5X as many as during Shakespeare's time.
  • It is estimated that a week's worth of the New York Times contains more information than a person was likely to come across in a lifetime in the 18th century.
  • It is estimated that 4 exabytes (4.0*10^19) of unique information will be generated this year. That is more than the previous 5,000 years, combined.
  • The amount of new technical information is doubling every two years...
  • For students starting a four-year technical degree this means that...half of what they learn in their first year of study will be outdated by their third year of study.
  • In two years, a supercomputer will be built that exceeds the computational capabilities of the human brain.
  • Predictions are that by 2049, a $1,000 computer will exceed the computational capabilities of the entire human species.
  • During the course of this presentation...67 babies were born in the US, 274 babies were born in China, and 395 babies were born in India.

So how does this affect you and Augustana? We are currently preparing students for jobs that don't yet exist... using technologies that haven't been invented... in order to solve problems we don't even know are problems yet.

And here is the biggest idea, recently featured on the cover of Time Magazine. The Singularity. Within your lifetime, computers will begin redesigning themselves at speeds their makers will not keep up with. Time wrote about how this could accelerate change as much as the Industrial Revolution did for our great grandparents.

Last year, we already witnessed Watson, an IBM super-computer, on Jeopardy! to challenge two past champions. Watson defeated his opponents but what was remarkable was that Watson understood all of the answers, which were read in plain English.

The other big thing is this: In 2008, China surpassed the United States as the world's leading car manufacturer. They did not accomplish this feat overnight. In 1980, just a few years before most of you were born, the U.S. manufactured 56 times more vehicles than China.

All of these challenges can seem a bit scary but in reality, they present your generation with opportunities and the chance to make history — your history.

There were times when our country was up against the wall with challenges far greater than we see today. The Greatest Generation mastered simultaneous tests against the Depression, Japanese and Nazis. My generation helped end the Cold War. Now comes your generation's test.

If the past is any guide, as long as we stay a free people who respect individual rights, the rule of law and democracy, we are likely to master these new challenges.

Let me close by calling attention to a new economic force in Illinois — a new employer who is measuring and taking advantage of all the changes I just mentioned. They are a new job engine that is building higher incomes here in Illinois...and if some graduates here need a job, you should look into them.

Many of you may not have heard of Eric Lifkovsky. He founded a company in 2006 called the Point — to mobilize social change using networks — email, Facebook, etc. Mad about the phone bill or need a new park? Organize at the Point.

It was a big failure. Eric learned a lot from this and started another new company.

Eric started again in October of 2008 with an online deal: $5 off a $10 burger from the Motel Bar — located in their rented office building — in Chicago. The restaurant was swamped. The company, called Groupon, now two and a half years old has 8,000 employees, hiring 200 per month. Its monthly revenues total billions. It has 60,000 suppliers. And 2 million subscribers just in Chicagoland. It has 800,000 square feet of space, adding 30,000 per month.

Groupon now operates in 45 countries and 500 cities. When it goes public this year, it may be worth more than Google.

Eric is now hiring people for jobs that did not exist before Groupon: computer city planners — hundreds — who had no such job before and now direct content to subscribers... The tools your generation has to succeed are greater than that of any other generation. The challenge will be keeping pace with the changes that are before you.

But when one of you appears as the Augustana commencement speaker 25 years from now, the changes you will have shaped or sparked will amaze this assembly.

Thank you.

Scott Cason
Assistant vice president of communication and marketing
(309) 794-7323
scottcason@augustana.edu