What should always be said at commencment
by Jon Fisher
(San Francisco )
Jon Fisher delivering USF commencement address
Thank you very much. My father’s commencement speaker was the great Martin Luther King. My Father was 20 years old and didn’t show up for that talk so thank you for showing up!
Thank you Dean Davis, President Fitzgerald, my friend Dr. Mark Cannice, the rest of the distinguished faculty and invited guests, the families, especially the parents, especially the parents who labored to get here financially, medically...emotionally...and can I get an Amen for the University of San Francisco graduates! I’m honored you graduates would spend such a special moment of your lives with me.
Of course you didn’t really have a choice. I was President Fitzgerald’s decision - a decision by a man who has lived, studied and worked all over the world including Germany, France, Switzerland, Mexico, China and Kenya and who decided I was the one for you to listen to before getting your diplomas. Really? This Is a question some of those parents who labored to get here may be asking themselves. I mean c’mon, there are 3 other Jon Fishers to choose from in the Bay Area alone and all of them are billionaires! If it’s any consolation, I don’t think President Fitzgerald was simply inspired in his choice. Some of you graduates attended my lectures at USF - I haunted this university for the last decade banging my fist on chalkboards and desks - pleading with you guys, as you started your projects, your companies, your careers, to marry the right person. The most traditionally successful people I know were divorced and they told me sacrificing their families wasn’t worth it. Hold your children up high as your greatest inventions because they are. I invented something many of you use every day and it doesn’t compare to any day with a happy, healthy child. Don’t step on anyone’s neck to advance your cause, never sue anyone and try not to get sued - you will sleep better at night. I have never been a party to a lawsuit in my technology career and Amen to that!
My wife and I don’t put work before our daughter or each other. The engineers in my company, with similar families, and I have been together for most of our professional lives. We don't waste time commuting to offices to look over shoulders because we trust each other. We don’t have a holiday party. We don’t have each other over for dinner. We get it done then we see our families. We’re like a less good looking, legal, married with children version of the Ocean’s Eleven team. We build good companies that great companies buy and take around the world as our path of least resistance to contributing to the world. Building smaller companies takes a lot less capital and therefore a lot less risk and therefore less of a personal toll. And this works in other industries - financially, my companies look a lot like Seth Rogen's movies - a strict budget, an acceptably sized audience, although much smaller than a blockbuster. He seems like a pretty happy guy too.
I accepted President Fitzgerald’s invitation because I think you can hear the siren call in your lives without it leading to you crashing against the rocks and I think that’s worth sharing.
Not everything in Silicon Valley or any industry or life for that matter need be portrayed as home runs or strike-outs - success or failure - it’s just what you hear about so often because it's what sells newspapers. You can have an idea that doesn’t yield a better way to do your job or give rise to a new company but changes your life. What’s that worth? I agreed to join my primary school board that changed my life. I leaned about parenting and education and philanthropy and what motivates people. Maybe you’ll have an idea about attacking global warming or hatred or poverty or truth in news reporting and maybe you’ll pursue none of those things except you’ll speak from your heart about them to inspire the person you’re going to marry. I had the idea to give this speech exactly 7 years ago to the day. I sat in this church right there. It was December 14, 2012 that was the day all those children were lost in the Sandy Hook shooting. I wondered what someone standing up here would say to us that day and then I wondered what I would to say to you that day. I thought in an increasingly unrecognizable world- my life trajectory should be recognizable to you. You can do it. You can do what I’ve done, that is you can be happy in your career and family. And if you want the world to know your name and you’re willing to risk it all to get there, I applaud you, really, and I wish you every success - just remember my name as your back up plan.
I do hope you return to Saint Ignatius once in awhile as I have. I always walked out of this church on a hill feeling better - even on that Sandy Hook day - feeling at the center of things. Salesforce built the greatest skyscraper in the land just two miles from here for a reason. My father taught physics at both San Francisco State and Stanford and often it was easier to get the great physicists of the century to speak in San Francisco. About 80% of you graduating today do not call San Francisco your home city but more of you will stay. A major wealth manager in San Francisco called me last month specifically to ask for a USF graduate to be his chief of staff - a sensitive position for someone he could really trust. I forwarded to President Fitzgerald, Dean Davis and Dr. Cannice all of whom responded enthusiastically in minutes to try to help you. Dr. Cannice later mentioned you should all not take your first position out there quite so seriously as there will be many opportunities. Returning again today, I know the opportunity to speak to you in this place and time may be my apex at age 46 for a variety of reasons including both sets of parents are still relatively happy and healthy and get to be a part of this.
My family is here today. My mother-in-law is here who believes all of this - career, family, inspiration, all of it, is due to grand design. My mother believes this is all due to chance. I think it’s somewhere in the middle. By the way, this was also the exact opening of my wedding vows. I continued, promising my wife that I would meet her in the middle of our disagreements whether or not they were about our mothers. And while I think having a loving family creates memorable moments that may result in chemical changes in the brain to make us more creative, I think we should also follow Jack Warner’s advice to Einstein paraphrasing “you have your theory of relatively and I have mine - don’t hire a relative.”
I have a house on a hill now that’s built into a cliff - into the rock. “And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall..." Matthew 7-24. And Amen to that. I see these guys eulogizing their fathers from time to time on CNN and it’s so tough and my own father is right here. And he is , not was , is a great father. He’s really good guy you know? I aspire to that. I aspire to that first before anything else. And my mother is great - she literally stood in front of me to protect from the world at times. And my wife - I couldn’t have imagined winding up with such a loving and patient and good person in my life that she got from her mother. And it with such humility that I witness all of this passed down to our little girl. Maybe you’ll see her at the reception - she shines.
I took the only path to see you along Tiburon Blvd where some of the most well meaning and resourceful people in town can’t seem to change daily driving habits to fix the traffic problem. So it is in most towns. How do we sacrifice a lot to save the planet if we can’t even sacrifice a little? The Union of concerned scientists just forecasted that nearly 4,400 homes in Marin County will be underwater in less than 30 years because of sea level rise so we’ll have to do something. My generation, yours, we will have to do something. For now, I keep searching for ideas like taking our daughter to school on an electric tandem bike. We count the idling cars we pass in traffic. It’s something. We named our daughter after Emerson who wrote “do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path, and leave a trail" Your degrees today, your work to come are the means to leave a trail. Your family is another. I will look for you in this church in the years to come as you build and find your happiness. Thank you USF and Go Dons!