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The Greatest Speeches in History: Sal Khan at MIT

The Greatest Speeches in History is a weekly column that compiles the most memorable speeches in history with the goal to emphasize on the power of public speaking, to illustrate its importance, impact, and necessity to master.

This week we focus on one commencement speaker, whose work has had a tremendous positive impact in many people’s lives. Entrepreneur and educators Salman Khan, founder of Khan Academy, gave a very inspirational commencement address to MIT Class of 2012.

Khan Academy is a free online education platform with online classes, courses, and tutorials covering various subjects – from mathematics and economics through health and medicine to history and arts, – with more than 42 million registered users from 190 countries around the world.

Here are the most important outtakes:

“Many universities aspire to teach their students ethics, but nothing is more powerful than when they lead by example. This is no small way inspired what has now become the Khan Academy. And now, MIT has once again put principle over profit by spearheading edX with Harvard. For this and many, many other reasons, I am honored to come here and thank the institution that I love so much for reminding me through its actions what is most important.”

“Many of you will soon enter the outside world and be somewhat taken aback. It will be far less efficient, far less fair, far less productive, and far more political than what you may have imagined it to be. There will be pessimism and cynicism everywhere. It is easy to succumb to this, to become cynical or negative yourself. If you do, you with the potential that you have, it would be a loss for yourself and for humanity.”

“To fight these forces of negativity, to increase the net positivity in the world, to optimize the happiness of yourself and the people you love, here are some tips and tools that I like to return to. I am not too much older than most of you, so take all of this with a large grain of salt.”

“Start every morning with a smile — even a forced one — it will make you happier. Replace the words “I have to” with “I get to” in your vocabulary. Smile with your mouth, your eyes, your ears, your face, your body at every living thing you see. Be a source of energy and optimism. Surround yourself with people that make you better. Realize or even rationalize that the grass is truly greener on your side of the fence. Just the belief that it is becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

“Make people feel that you care about them. And here’s, a well, a little secret, the best way to do this is to actually care about them.”

“Make people feel that you are listening to them. Another little secret, the best way to do this is to actually listen.”

“Try to build true empathy. Regardless of your actual spiritual beliefs, it is sometimes helpful to imagine that time is not linear; that in past or future, or I guess parallel life, you literally are, have been or will be every person. That after this life, you will go back in time and be reincarnated as the person you are arguing with, or passing judgment on (and will then have to put up with the current version of you).”

“Remember that real success is maximizing your internally derived happiness. It will not come from external status or money or praise. It will come from a feeling of contribution. A feeling that you are using your gifts in the best way possible.”

“Money is important for the basic necessities, and even luxuries, of life. All of you will be able to buy expensive fruit and go to Sea World whenever you want to. Beyond that, and many of you will go far beyond that, money is a command over resources — including people — and should be viewed as a serious responsibility.”

“Like money, status can be a powerful tool. But they can both distort your reality away from true internal groundedness.”

“If you ever feel inspired, take action with it. Don’t let anyone tell you why you shouldn’t; at least lace up and give it a try.”

“So go forth with your careers, but leave space for your passions. Remember that you are much, much more than a title or a bank account. You are dancers and poets, inventors and athletes, musicians and innovators. If you give your passions room to breathe, you might find that is all they need to help you move the dial forward for everyone.”

“And this isn’t just a commencement speaker trying to make you feel good or take weight off your shoulders. This is another member of your species who knows how badly the world needs you. Who knows that MIT graduates, like a tall person who learns to slouch to not stand out, sometimes undersell who they are, even to themselves. I am, in fact, putting weight on your shoulders because I know how scarce and important a resource you are.”

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