Remarks by Ambassador Blake at the Sampoerna University and Lone Star College Award Ceremony‎, Jakarta

Thank you, Aaron, for that kind introduction. I would also like to say thank you to Dr. Head, Dr. Brandyburg, and Dr. Aman, for the kind invitation to speak here this evening. And of course I would like to acknowledge all the faculty and staff of Lone Star College, Putera Sampoerna Foundation, and Sampoerna University for their efforts.

Above all, I want to recognize Bapak Putera. Thanks to his vision and your hard work, the Lone Star College has accepted your credits, qualifying you to receive a U.S. Associate Degree. You are blazing a pathway that I hope many other Indonesians will follow. And with the quality education you have received, you also have the opportunity to continue your studies at a four-year university. I’m especially pleased to hear that some of you will be pursuing your degrees in the United States. Congratulations to each and every one of you! Semoga Sukses!

Congrats as well to the parents who made many sacrifices to get all of you here and who have supported you on your educational journey. This journey has brought you from many different locations in Indonesia — Bogor, Bali, Malang and many more other areas.

To all of our graduates, people say the world you are inheriting has never been more divided and complicated, given the challenges of ISIL, Russian aggression in Ukraine, corruption on the increase in organizations such as FIFA, and democracy facing tests in many countries.

But the truth is that people have been saying that kind of stuff back to the time of Malthus who said population growth would outstrip man’s ability to grow feed, leading to catastrophic famines

But what has always saved mankind is technology, innovation and human ingenuity.

Contrary to the dire warnings of doomsayers, the world did not experience a famine. Instead the Rockefeller Foundation and others helped produce the green revolution that expanded yields for basic food staples.

More recently China and India have led the greatest reductions in world poverty in human history over the last 30 years. So a lot of positive change happens but doesn’t get the same attention as the problems. And you graduates are now the next generation to find new and innovative ways to tackle the challenges of our time.

There is no one better to talk with about innovation than young people. Sixty percent of Indonesia’s population is under the age of 35. Because of this potential demographic dividend, there are endless possibilities for new products and new services that Indonesians can invent, produce, and market to the world. This is happening already, as many young Indonesians are developing innovative new products and services that will improve the quality of lives and solve the problems in communities.

Indonesia is on its way to expanding the number of entrepreneurs, with many famous innovators, people thinking outside the box to solve common problems. Indonesians like Andrew Darwis, who created Indonesia’s largest online community. Kaskus began as a way for Indonesians in the diaspora to stay connected while he himself was studying in the United States. It now has over five million registered members. And Tri Mumpuni, a member of the Clinton Global Initiative, who uses her over 75 rural, community based and profitable hydroelectric power projects as an example of how Indonesia can move to cleaner renewable energy to fuel Indonesia’s growing economy. Puni is quite literally bringing power to the people.

The United States of course has long been a pioneer in innovation. Our first Secretary of State for the United States was Thomas Jefferson – who was also an inventor and helped to establish our patent system. He was one of our founding fathers and only 33 years old when he wrote the US Declaration of Independence – which was in effect, the mission statement of a risky start-up called the United States of America.

Jefferson was equally successful as an entrepreneur, inventing a machine to make noodles, a chair that turned 360 degrees, an encryption device so that messages he sent to Washington while Ambassador to France could not be read by the wrong people, and a magnificent clock that remains in the entrance of his home in Virginia.

Be it Jefferson or Indonesia’s young entrepreneurs, it is young people such as you who push us forward, always by building something that no one else thought to build – who push us forward by saying aloud something that no one else had the courage to say.

It is customary for commencement speakers to give a little bit of advice – here is my first:

Rather than join group thinking of how problems are intractable, think how you can use your education and modern technology to solve problems. Be a force for change. Technology has made that easier than ever. Social media is a wonderful way to share and learn new ideas and crowd funding sources like Kickstarter and KitaBisa mean you no longer have to go to a bank to fund your idea.

Technology helps businesses – for instance, is an Indonesian tech-startup blog and research company that helps local startups by providing insights on how to develop web services and online products. The founder also helps foreign companies enter Indonesia, which boosts trade. As future business leaders, you know, that reducing barriers to trade is quite possibly the most important thing a country can do to reduce poverty

Technology also helps build democracy and government accountability, through apps, which allow citizens to report flooding and parents to report issues at schools. Through, Indonesians can raise issues that are important to them through online petitions.

For example:

  • Akademi Berbagi is a free learning academy that operates through social media and uses digital tools.
  • Blood4Life is an online community that helps people source blood for those in need.
  • Diet Kantong Plastik is a national movement to increase awareness and get more people to be wiser with their plastic consumption.

These ventures show clearly how young Indonesians have embraced technology to expand traditional ways of doing business and solving social problems. So all of you should follow Gandhi’s great advice: be the change you want to see.

My second piece of advice is not to get too stressed about what career you are going to pursue. Many of you may not know yet what you want to do with your life. That’s OK! It’s fine not to know. Most people have at least three big changes in their careers as they figure out what their good at, how they can support themselves and what they really love doing. If you’re lucky, you will find a job that gives you all three.

In my case, I was interested first in environmental work so I went to work for a public interest environmental NGO for two years after college. I learned then that to be successful in that field, I needed to concentrate on a very specialized area and I was not ready to become so specialized. There was more I wanted to learn and do. So I went back to graduate school in international affairs and joined the State Department, which I loved.

While you are figuring out what you want to do, use the time to build skills that will help you succeed: learn languages; develop good writing and IT skills; complete your four-year degree; and go to graduate school to develop your knowledge.

Most important, remember there is no silver bullet for achieving success and in fact there is no common definition of success. For me success is measured in how much you can help make a difference to help other people.

That’s why I joined and stayed in the Foreign Service thirty years ago – every day is different and offers the chance to make a difference in someone’s life and build something positive.

Last week for example I had the opportunity to visit refugee camps in Aceh; to make a speech about how trade can increase opportunities for the people of Indonesia; and to promote clean energy as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and global warming.

As you progress in life, most of you will achieve success, status, prosperity and security. Those are all good but not sufficient, because you must also find ways to give back and help those not as fortunate as you. There are so many ways to do this. Let me give you an example of someone who gave back.

A few years ago when I was Ambassador in Sri Lanka, I volunteered to do reading programs to promote literacy through an organization called Room to Read. Room to Read was founded by a Microsoft engineer named John Wood who when trekking in in a remote area of Nepal was shown the village library by a young Nepalese boy. It turned out to be two detective novels donated by trekkers, but many of the kids had read these books because that was all they had. John was inspired by the boy’s passion for books so he promised to build that village a library. He loved that experience so much he quit Microsoft to build libraries full time. RtR has now built 17,500 libraries and 1,900 schools in 10 countries.

Let me also share with you some of the advice I give to the many young American diplomats who have worked for me here and elsewhere.

First, always act with integrity and honesty. I tell my young diplomats that as they consider courses of action to solve a problem, they should ask themselves if the action they are considering would pass what I call the New York Times test – could you explain it with pride to a reporter who learned about it? If the answer is no, then drop the idea.

Second, be positive. One of my old bosses was former Secretary of State Colin Powell. He used to always remind us that optimism is a force multiplier. The world has too many people who are prepared to tell you why things can’t be done – you will do well by showing why things can get done. Every problem has a solution and the leaders are those who go out and find them.

This brings me to my next piece of advice, don’t be afraid to fail. In many cultures, it is considered shameful or dishonorable to fail. Not in America. Some of our greatest innovators failed a lot to begin with:

  • Henry Ford who gave us the car and the assembly line went bankrupt five times before he founded the Ford Motor Company.
  • Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, was fired by Apple but later came back and helped create the iPad and the iPhone.
  • Thomas Edison perfected the light bulb, but only after trying 10,000 times.

My fourth and final piece of advice is to stretch yourself and never stop learning. Some people in the State Department take the same kinds of jobs their whole career and never get out of their comfort zone. I did the opposite: I took on many new jobs for which I had no experience. For example I was the senior desk officer for Turkey and I was the Deputy Ambassador in India even though I had never served in either country. Sure I had to learn quickly, but I gained a lot of new experience that has served me well ever since.

I was sad at my graduation and apprehensive about the future. I know some of you are going to the United States, some are going elsewhere, and some are staying here in Indonesia to continue your education. But trust me, amazing days of opportunity lie ahead for you. Seize them all.

Class of 2015: go forth, be positive sources of change, and serve.

As prepared.