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Craig Venter delivered the 2008 convocation speech for Faculty of Science honour and specialization students at the University of Alberta. A transcription of the speech has been saved below.


"Eminent Chancellor; Madame President; Mister Chairmen of the board; honoured guests; graduates; families and friends. Thank you very much for this high honour that you have given me today. It's a privilege to be here with you on the 100th anniversary of the University of Alberta, not only to accept this honorary degree, but also to share with this important day with you.

Today marks a significant milestone in each of your lives. You're graduating with the most important skillset anyone can have: you've learned how to learn, how to acquire new knowledge, and hopefully, how to access the constant flow of new information that we're all confronted with each day. I hope that you've also learned what I call 'evidence based decision making'; so that you can make smart choices as you go forward in life. Much of what you've learned in the course of your formal education will be proven wrong during your lifetimes, making constant and continual learning an essential part of your lives. The world in which you and your children will be the leaders will not be the world that your parents lived in. We're faced with a set of circumstances never before faced by humanity.

I was born in 1946, when the population of the earth was much smaller than it is today. There are now over three people on the planet for every one that existed 1946, and soon there will be four. Population estimates show that we will go from over 6.7 billion to 9 billion people on this earth in the next 40 years. We've essentially fished out the oceans, while we fill the seas with plastic. We wage war over oil and religion, yet we cannot now provide the basic necessities of life: sufficient food, clean water, shelter, medicine, and fuel, for the existing population. How are we going to do so as the population continues to dramatically expand? If that's not challenging enough, we now know from the last 150 years of burning fossil fuels - particularly oil and coal - that we have dramatically changed the CO2 concentrations in our atmosphere, and that increased CO2 is resulting in climate change. As the population expands, and the developing world becomes more developed, the rate of CO2 accumulation in the atmosphere is projected to dramatically accelerate. We clearly need major new ideas, inventions, discoveries and solutions if we're going to survive long-term on this planet. Some of [??] our only hope is to find other planets to colonize, but I think we're better off learning how to survive where we are.

While today is a day of reflection on all that you've accomplished, all that you and your family and friends have sacrificed and worked for, it's also the start of the most challenging part of your life. You're at that fork in the road where you must decide what path to now take. And by a path I don't mean which job or where; I mean what kind of life you're going to live and what you will give back to the world. Will you be committed and passionate about changing the world, or will you merely be accepting what you've been given? Will you be the ones who, in your later years, feel that you made a difference, or will you be one of the majority wishing you might have done more with your lives? I hope for the sake of all of us that [you'll be?] committed to helping to change the world. That change doesn't have to come by becoming the president of a country or a company; it can come in everyday choices that you make. The choice to take a risk, take a stand, be involved, and be engaged in what you're doing, and be willing to take the criticisms that might come your way by bucking the system from trying to change it. In my view, if you're not challenging and questioning then you'll be contributing to the problems not the solutions.

In my autobiography 'A Life Decoded' I write about my mentor and teacher, the late Nate Kaplan, who was a noted biochemist. Amongst the many important lessons he taught me in science, one was one that helped guide me through my years thus far in science, and I believe is one of the principals that has really been key to my success. He said that most researchers are so afraid of failure, or of taking a risk, that they talk themselves out of doing the key experiments. Don't be afraid to try. I've tried to follow his advice, and I think I've been successful, only by taking what others consider to be significant risks. From competing with the government to sequence the human genome, or from now engineering new life forms that try and help sequester CO2 and generate new renewable fuels.

So why risk failure and criticism? I also hope the answer is obvious: so that you can make scientific advances or medical breakthroughs; devise new computing programs; write important literature; reach a child through your teaching; create new sources of fuel; devise new methods of generating clean water; understand how to stop coral reefs from dying; design new zero-carbon buildings; and the limitless other things you can accomplish if you just take the first step and try.

This is an exciting day for all of you. Congratulations and good luck."

changed June 7, 2009