Andrew's 2023 Graduation Remarks

Andrew's 2023 Graduation Remarks

Commencement Address

Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, faculty, parents, and most importantly, the brilliant graduating class of Mount Tamalpais School, welcome! Today marks a monumental moment in our lives as we gather here to celebrate the accomplishments of these remarkable young individuals. As we bid farewell to their middle school years and embrace the endless possibilities of the future, we reflect on the mission and values that have guided us throughout this journey.

At Mount Tamalpais School, our mission is simple yet profound: "Learning is Revered and Education is Joyful." It serves as a constant reminder that knowledge is not a burden, but a privilege. It teaches us to approach education with reverence, for it is the key that unlocks countless doors of opportunity.  It also reminds us that learning should be a source of joy, a never-ending adventure that expands our horizons and shapes our character.

In keeping with our mission, we have embraced a set of values that have molded us into compassionate, resilient, and empathetic individuals. We have learned to lead with kindness, understanding that our actions and words have the power to uplift and inspire those around us. By honoring childhood, we have recognized the importance of cherishing the innocence, curiosity, and imagination that are the hallmarks of this precious phase of life.

What do you think of my speech so far? Pretty good, huh? I think it is okay. It is remarkable though that it was written by an AI given the following instructions….

Chat GTP: ​​Write a graduation speech for an 8th grade class at a K-8 school in California. Our Mission is "Learning is Revered and Education is Joyful." Our values are: Lead with kindness, honor childhood, practice active inclusion, celebrate the journey, and ask what's possible.

Yup. Everything I had read was written by the famous, or should I say infamous, ChatGPT. It is good. However, I don’t think it is great.

First, there is no humor, something that all of my graduation speeches are well known for. You were supposed to laugh at that. I did ask the AI to include some humor. I typed:

Rewrite this adding references or jokes related to:

1. The Golden State Warriors

2. The musical "Grease"

3. Online chess

4. A haunted aircraft carrier

This is a brief sample of what it generated: “So, Class of 2023, let's set our sights on victory. Let's outsmart our opponents like chess masters, sing our hearts out like the T-Birds and Pink Ladies, and face our fears with the courage of those who've treaded the haunted decks. Together, we will rise like champions, transforming the impossible into the possible.”

Speech one was good, not great. Speech two is so bad that I might be fired as Head of School if that was in my actual graduation address. I am speaking to you, Class of 2023, about artificial intelligence so that:

1. I can be hip, cool, and on-trend. 

2. I can look back in ten years at what I said about AI in 2023 and chuckle at my hubris for taking on the topic. 

3. I think AI and the prospect of an AI-generated graduation speech have lessons to teach all of us right now. 

Hopefully, I can share these lessons… before AI has taken my job. Let the record show that in 2023 I do use humor better than AI.

Before we get to these lessons, I need to acknowledge that generative AI has many great uses. I will not be the educator who in 2023, said, “Don’t use Chat GPT.” In fact, this year, I used AI to write the therapy dog permission slip that all of next year’s families have signed. AI wrote the first draft of our AI and plagiarism policy in the student-family handbook (yup, meta, I know). Finally, I used AI to summarize all 131 responses to the parent survey.

After reading that summary in bullet points, I asked Chat GPT to summarize what families like about MTS as a Shasperean Sonnet as well as a haiku. Because the sonnet (written in iambic pentamenter) is too long, I will read the Haiku:

Joyful learning thrives,
Partnership, kindness, respect,
Community bonds.

OK, enough Chat GPT Party Tricks. Onto the life lessons:

The first lesson we can learn from AI, and you can take with you to high school, is don’t settle for good. Aspire for great. 

Chat GPT’s first speech was good. I could have used it, you would have applauded, and we would be even closer to your graduation and our summer vacation. It was only good, though, and I aspire for a graduation address to be great. You do not need AI to teach you the importance of great over good.  

You learned the value of pushing past good in search of great with each draft of a paper you wrote for Laura and lab report you turned into Toni. The countless hour running and rerunning scenes from Grease this year and Peter Pan in 5th grade are yet another reminder that we should work towards excellence. Excellence takes work. This speech took me about ten hours to draft, edit, and practice. You have learned how to work towards excellence. Don’t forget this MTS learning.

For now, AI is good. It is not great. I hope you all have learned to aspire and work for great.I purposely said that “For now” AI is good, not great. In time AI is going to improve and, perhaps, be able to do some great work. So what else can it teach us?

I hope AI teaches us to be proud of what we, humans, create. Had I copied and pasted Chat GPT’s speech and given it, I might have received a few “thanks for those great words, Andrew” or similar compliments during the reception after graduation. Had I done that, I would have known they are being way too nice to me and I would have not been proud. 

I would have known that I short-changed you, class of 2023, of possible learning and a speech I am proud of. I know online chess is all the rage in the Class of 2023. You understand that a win does not feel like a win if you use a hint or a cheat to look up the best next move. 

As you head into high school and we all move into an increasingly artificially intelligently created world, I hope we maintain a pride of authorship. I do not need to write the best therapy-dog permission slip, but a graduation speech? That matters. I want to be proud. I hope you do as well.

The current state of AI and the generic, good speech it wrote for me is a lesson in the importance of connecting with individuals and small groups of people. Generative AI such as Chat GPT is built on a “Large Language Model.” It looks at millions upon millions of words and is essentially a very smart autocomplete. The language that means something and connects with people, however, is not large. It is small. Let me explain.

“English teacher who did not sleep because she was afraid of ghosts aboard an abandoned aircraft carrier.” These are seventeen words that mean something to all of you sitting up here on the stage. Those seventeen words, though, would never be generated by a large language model. Your experience about the USS Hornet is one that only 30 of you share with your teachers.  The memory and humor of your teacher awake all night, terrified of ghosts is a small language model, not a large language model.

AI’s are predictable – they really are prediction engines – and they are not personal. You will never connect, meaningfully, when your words are those of a large language model. While you might use Chat GPT to come up with some promposal ideas – I did just that and it suggested a scavenger hunt, balloon surprise, and customized puzzle– only you will know what to write on the scavenger hunt clues, the messages to write in each balloon, and the image on the puzzle. Only you will know the language your soon-to-be prom date might enjoy. AI is predictable and it is generic. Be original.

I have one final lesson to offer you, Class of 2023. Be good. Yes, I know. My first message was do not settle for good, but to aspire for great. My final message, though, is focused on the moral and ethical meaning of good as in “Be a good person.”

We are six months into living with widely accessible generative AI and, already, there are troubling uses of this powerful technology. Those who are not grounded in a strong sense of right – in being good – can use AI to create what truly is fake news and fake images that visually support those lies. 

Being good, ethical people in the age of AI goes beyond not using generative AI to create falsehoods that appear real. More now than ever, we must have our own ideas and opinions and own them. Don’t write or say something and, when questioned, say “Well, that is what Chat GPT wrote, not me.” Have original thoughts and be proud of them – even if it means others disagree. Finally, be discerning consumers and ardent advocates of truth. 

While a single person might be able to ding the notion of truth, generative AI has the power to erode it entirely. You, the Class of 2023, and all MTS students must value the notion of truth and goodness and speak the truth as others, human intelligent or artificially intelligent, work to do the opposite.

Class of 2023, Generative AI has the potential to change the world just as the internet did and cell phones before that. While we will see that change unfold in the years to come, for now, please remember:

  • Don’t settle for good, aspire for great
  • Be proud of what you create
  • Make meaningful, personal connections
  • Be good people who value and protect truth

I will close now with Chat GPT’s final words, the really cheesy ones, to all of you:

“So, Class of 2023, let's take a final bow together. As we embark on this new act called high school, let's carry the rhythm of our mission in our hearts. Let's harmonize our voices, blending kindness, reverence for learning, and the joy of education. Together, we will compose a symphony of success, turning the impossible into a standing ovation.”

Congratulations, Class of 2023! 

Read More