Clinton, N.Y. – More than 325 members of Hamilton College’s 497-member Class of 2020 returned on Saturday, June 4, for the Commencement celebration that would have happened two years ago, had the COVID pandemic not intervened. The class that was honored virtually in 2020 enjoyed many traditions of a typical Senior Week and Commencement two years later, donning caps and gowns and walking across the stage in the Margaret Bundy Scott Field House. Graduates came from as far away as Korea and Hong Kong to celebrate with their classmates.
Netflix co-founder Marc Randolph ’81 gave the Commencement address, and other speakers included Kena Gilmour ’20, recipient of the James Soper Merrill Prize awarded to the member of the graduating class “who, in character and influence, has typified the highest ideals of the College,” as selected by the faculty, and AlMahdi Mahil ’20, who was selected as class speaker by his classmates.
Randolph shared advice based on his own entrepreneurial success with the 2020 graduates, emphasizing that above all it’s important to “chill.”
“Whatever it is you want to do, you’ve got time,” Randolph advised. “Don’t worry if you don’t yet know what you want to do with your life. Don’t worry about your career following a straight line. I promise [that] the happiest, most successful people I know do what they do because they followed a passion, not because they had a plan. The best journeys rarely proceed linearly. Find something that strikes your interest. And don’t be afraid to start down a path just because you can’t see the end.”
Randolph received an honorary degree at Commencement, along with Edvige Jean-François ’90, an award-winning global journalist who in July will become the inaugural executive director of the Center for Studies on Africa and Its Diaspora at Georgia State University. Jean-François gave the baccalaureate address on Friday.
In his remarks, Randolph told the 2020 graduates that, contrary to the popular opinion that “there are no bad ideas,” he believes “there are plenty of bad ideas … And I’ll tell you based on my four decades as an entrepreneur, there’s no such thing as a good idea. Every idea is flawed … and if you think you have a good idea? Well, that’s just because you haven’t yet figured out why it’s bad.”
But, Randolph added, that every amazing thing that’s changed the world – “whether it’s penicillin, the steam engine, sliced bread, TikTok – they all started out as a bad idea.
“When I told my wife the idea that eventually became Netflix? She said it was the stupidest idea she had ever heard,” he recalled. Randolph said many people are discouraged when what they think is a great idea gets shot down by friends, a boss, or parents. Too often, he said, for most people the idea ends there — but it doesn’t have to. He shared his steps for turning ideas into realities.
“The first step is simple. You just need to start,” Randolph said. “Success is proportional to how many of those ideas you actually try,” Randolph said, “and the only way to do that is to stop thinking and start doing. You have to build something, test something, try something, make something. You’re going to learn more in 10 minutes of doing it than you will in 10 months of ‘thinking about it.’ The important thing is just to do it, not to do it perfectly.”
Randolph called optimism “a powerful force, because you’re going to hear versions of ‘that will never work’ hundreds of times in your life.” Yet, he said, “That crazy idea that everyone says will never work … I’m living proof that sometimes it does.”
“Having delayed commencement celebrations is a great way for graduates who missed their ceremony years ago to have those moments with other fellow students and faculty,” said Hamilton Visiting Assistant Professor of Psychology Elaine Harrigan. “In that way, they can still enjoy the positive emotions and sense of meaning in life that we see so often associated with these gatherings.”