80,000 Minutes

As I wind down my AST presidency, I have given much thought as to what to say at my presidential address. If you figure that there are 4,000 people at the ATC, and that I will have about twenty minutes to fill, the simple math is that I will be taking 80,000 minutes of your collective lives with my address. That’s equivalent to about 56 days of human life. For me, this is a source of anxiety. I've always tried to be respectful of others' time, and would feel terrible if, at the end of my address, everyone at the ATC said, "Well, there's twenty minutes of my life that I'll never get back!"

I have watched many of my colleagues struggle to find something profound and meaningful to say at similar occasions. The sad truth is that most of us, myself included, don't really have anything that profound to say. We are kidding ourselves if we choose to believe that we are Lincoln at Gettysburg or Demosthenes at the Athenian Assembly — and I would totally forgive you, if you ran for the door to get a head start on your coffee break.

It's a common exercise in school to write an essay about an historical figure, examining whether "the man made the times" or "the times made the man." However, this is a false choice. In reality, impactful moments in history require a truly special person to be at the right place, at the right time. As anyone with a rudimentary understanding of probability theory can tell you, it is far more likely that you will be an ordinary person, at the wrong place, at the wrong time.

So what do you do if you are an ordinary person? You join a community of other ordinary people and together accomplish something extraordinary. The AST is just such a place. With this realization, I will probably take your twenty minutes and show you the many things that you have already collectively accomplished  — and the limitless potential of our continued work together.

I can’t thank all of you enough for the opportunity to serve as president of the AST. Your intellect, commitment, support, and friendship are anything but ordinary to me.

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