Friday, December 18, 2009

graduation day

at this year's graduation ceremony, USF's school of business and professional studies gave craig newmark, founder of craigslist, an honorary degree. i had the pleasure of introducing him.

my remarks looked something like this:

Back in 2007, there was a guy named Sean who owned a home in San Francisco. A nice home, near Chinatown, with one problem: the attic. The attic was full of rats. Based on a tip he received from a hardware store, Sean filled the attic with peanut butter-flavored cubes of poison. The idea was that the rats would eat the cubes, become extremely thirsty, and scuttle out of the house. The rats did indeed eat the cubes, but instead of getting thirsty and leaving for a drink, they died. Now Sean’s attic was full of dead, stinky rats. So Sean did what millions of other people do - he posted to Craigslist. In exchange for ridding his attic of dead rats, he offered 5000 CDs from his personal music collection.

I find this story fascinating for three reasons. First, it is amazing that a significant transaction - dead rats for 5000 CDs - can take place without a single dollar bill exchanged. No cash register was needed. No paypal. No shopping mall.

Second, this simple exchange requires a complex trust between two people. It requires civility. It requires human beings treating human beings like human beings.

The third reason I love this story has nothing to do with Sean, or the rats, or the 5000 CDs. It’s about what happens when many, many people use Craigslist. Craigslist was started as a hobby by Craig Newmark in early 1995. Today, more than 35 million viewers in 55 countries use Craigslist. Now, when people use Craigslist, they seldom pay for classified ads, and when people don’t pay for classified ads, it is difficult for newspapers, at least in the United States, to exist. In this way, and in many other ways, Craigslist is what we in media studies call a disruptive technology. Craigslist is a game changer. It disrupts the existing order.

In this way, Craig Newmark and Craigslist are quite similar to USF. After all, the motto of USF is not "Educating minds and hearts to make a lot of money." Nor is the motto of USF "Educating minds and hearts to maintain the status quo." The motto of USF is "Educating minds and hearts to change the world." Change the world. Be disruptive.

Today, we honor Craig Newmark, the entrepreneur who founded Craigslist. The University of San Francisco is proud to honor Craig for his success at directing technology to promote "a common good that transcends the interests of particular individuals or groups." The University does, therefore, confer upon Craig Newmark the degree of Doctor of Humane letters, honoris causa, with all the rights and privileges pertaining thereunto. Given this eighteenth day of December, in the year of our Lord two thousand and nine, and of the University, the hundredth and fifty-fourth, in San Francisco, California.

to the graduating class of 2009 - congratulations and may you be disruptive.

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