SpaceX founder Elon Musk encourages Caltech graduates to 'create some magic'
Musk delivers the 2012 commencement speech at the university.
Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla Motors, was commencement speaker at Caltech's 118th Annual Commencement at the Pasadena campus. (Raul Roa / Staff Photographer / June 15, 2012)
The former chief executive of Paypal hadn't built anything physical besides model rockets as a child. On Friday, he told more than 500 students graduating from Caltech that persistence was key to his success.
“The thing about a rocket is the passing grade is 100%,” Musk said. “It's a huge relief. I still can't believe it actually happened.”
Musk recalled how he broke from Paypal to explore innovations that would affect Earth.
“I thought, what are some of the problems that would affect future humanities?” he said.
With a goal of increasing NASA's budget, he visited Russia three times to look into buying a refurbished intercontinental ballistic missile. The trips made him realize that there is a will to expand beyond Earth, he said.
“The United States is a nation of explorers, and people came here from other parts of the world,” he said. “It's a distillation of the spirit of human exploration.”
He created SpaceX over “the advice of pretty much everyone I talked to,” he said. “One friend made me sit down and watch videos of rockets blowing up.”
The Dragon space capsule made it back to Earth on May 30, but Musk said there is still a lot of work to do if we want humans living on Mars or other planets. He encouraged graduates to work at SpaceX or similar companies to make that goal a reality.
“It's really one of most important things for the preservation and extension of consciousness,” he said.
Populating other planets isn't Musk's only goal. Tesla Motors, an electric-vehicle company he cofounded, will launch its Model S sedan this week.
Musk compared technological innovations to magic, ending his commencement speech on an optimistic note.
“You guys are the magicians of the 21st century,” he said. “Don't let anything hold you back. Imagination is the limit. Go out there and create some magic.”
Many Caltech graduates are already busy, despite a dismal job market. Joel Burdick, a mechanical engineering professor at the university, said all of his students are already employed, with full-time jobs or internships lined up.
Caltech “helps you get your foot in the door,” he said. “After that, they hire you for what you can do.”
The campus was named the world's top research university last fall by British magazine Times Higher Education.
Undergraduates are also encouraged to leave the campus once they graduate instead of accumulating more degrees, he said. “It's not because we don't like them, it's just good for them to get a change of scenery.”
Laura Conwill, who received her bachelor's degree in computer science, is headed to Microsoft to work on the search engine Bing.
She called her time at Caltech the best four years of her life. And even though she isn't interested in building rockets, she said Musk's achievements were admirable. “It gives me inspiration that big things like that are achievable.”