The Royal Albert Hall, 18 October 2017

Members of Court and Council, colleagues, distinguished honourees, graduates, family and friends. 

It is my honour, as President of Imperial College London, to welcome you to Commemoration Day 2017.

Graduates, congratulations. We are here to celebrate your accomplishments, applaud your many talents and wish you well in all that awaits you in life. You have worked hard at your studies. You have also found time to excel outside the lecture halls and laboratories. You are musicians, dancers, actors, singers and athletes. And you are volunteers who gave your most precious commodity, your time, to help others.

We also want to recognise those whose support was essential during your time at Imperial.

The academics sitting behind me, and many others, have shared their knowledge, sparked your curiosity and broadened your horizons. They are dedicated researchers and educators, the best in their fields. They have challenged and inspired you.  They have shown you the importance of high standards in all that you do.

Your families and friends are your emotional anchors. They are always there when you need them. They share in your triumphs and bring additional joy to today’s celebration. 

The opportunities for you to contribute to society abound. You have much to offer. The need for people with your intelligence, passion and commitment to learning is unending.

You graduate at a time when there is a divide between those who believe that globalisation is a force for good and those who feel that it is a reason for diminished opportunities and dashed hopes.  It is a time when universities are viewed by some as part of the problem rather than a source of solutions.  Some think that universities are elite institutions that are not relevant to them.

We have a responsibility to change that perception.  We need to do more to share our world of innovation and discovery, and we need to find new ways of doing this.

Imperial will continue to benefit society primarily through our excellence in research and education.  We will continue to work on solutions to complex, persistent problems affecting the world.

Imperial will also continue to share what we do through our excellent outreach to school students, our care for patients, and our public engagement.   

We have new opportunities to reach new neighbors around our new campus in White City just three miles northwest of here. There we have opened the ‘Invention Rooms’ where we will bring new opportunities to share the wonder of what we do in research and education.

Our maker and ‘hack’ spaces at the Invention Rooms will be beacons for us to collaborate with a new community.

For this, we will rely on the volunteer spirit ingrained in our staff, alumni and students. Last year, Imperial students devoted over 25 thousand hours to serve more than 150 community groups.

I urge you to carry this volunteer spirit with you.  Find ways to contribute to society by working with the communities where you live and work.  You can provide hope and confidence to individuals who have not had the same access to a university education as you.  And you will be joining 200,000 alumni who have taken their intellect and energy into communities around the world.

Volunteering is a form of collaboration. 

Respect your neighbours. Listen to them and learn from them as you learn from your colleagues.

Things we learn beyond our fields of expertise produce wisdom and creativity.

Also learn from your mistakes.   

Dr. Demis Hassabis, Co-Founder and CEO of Google DeepMind, recently gave the Imperial Institute ofGlobal Health Innovation Annual Lecture. He talked about the use of computers to help us to process information that is beyond our human ability. He spoke of AlphaGo, the machine that mastered the complex and intricate game of Go. Go has been played for thousands of years, it cannot be mastered with simple rules and requires a great deal of intuition. Computer analysis by brute force is impossible due to the 10^170 possible moves. 

Their approach to playing Go used neural networks to allow the computer to learn from observing the moves of hundreds of amateur games.  Then they set the computer to play against itself millions of times, using what they call “reinforcement learning” - that is, learning from its mistakes and improving each time.  In the end, the Go community was inspired by some of the creative and new approaches AlphaGo used – imagine that, Go masters inspired by the creativity of a computer.

We humans do this too.

You will learn from each risky move you make, you will learn from each error you correct, and you will learn from each positive reinforcement you receive. 

You will be creative in the process and you will inspire new ways of doing things.

Never stop learning. 

Extend your reach.  Share your knowledge.

We are very proud of you and we are excited by your future.  Please keep in touch; your achievements will inspire us and will inspire future generations of students.

Congratulations.