Courtesy of Cornell University

Nye warned graduates against allowing fear to drive their decisions, advising Cornell's Class of 2019 to channel fear into excitement, instead.

May 26, 2019

Bill Nye ’77 Tells Cornell University Class of 2019 to Change the World

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Although the weather cleared up just before the beginning of the 2019 convocation ceremonies, Bill Nye ’77 did not celebrate the Earth’s current climate.

In his speech, the Cornell alumnus warned Schoellkopf Field attendees of the grave danger that climate change poses to the world. However, Nye was optimistic about the newly-minted graduates’ ability to resolve these issues, highlighting the Cornell class of 2019.

Nye is known for hosting “Bill Nye the Science Guy,” a comedic television show with the intent of introducing children to science.

William Sanford Nye graduated from Cornell in 1977 with a degree in mechanical engineering. After working as an engineer for Boeing, Nye decided to try his hand at comedy, writing jokes for a Seattle comedy show. He eventually merged his two passions, helping to create the television show that brought him fame.

Saturday’s event began with speeches by Cornell Convocation Committee chair Charlotte Lefkowitz ’19 and class president Andrew Semmes ’19. Then, President Martha Pollock introduced Nye to the stage.

In a speech that touched on women’s education and the importance of voting, Nye spoke at length on one topic: climate change. The television personality emphasized that humans are at the root of the cause of climate destruction through inefficient and pollutant forms of energy production.

Climate change has become a recent talking point for Nye, most notably through a sketch alluded to in his speech On “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” he lit a globe on fire to make a point about climate change’s impact on the Earth.

“It seems like we’ve gotten to the point where the globe is on fire!” Nye said in his speech, in reference to the May 16th video.

Nye stated that, in order to defeat the dangers of climate change, all of mankind needs to change their practices for using energy. He compared the mobilization efforts needed to end today’s “global change” to those needed to win the “global war” of World War II in the 1940s. Although a daunting task, Nye said he is optimistic that it can be done.

“When you have to perform, be it during a final exam, dressing for a date, winning a World War or managing an entire planet, you might get nervous. You might get scared. That fear can stop you cold, but don’t let it,” Nye said to the audience. “You’re graduates of Cornell University, for crying out loud!”

To accomplish this goal of escaping global climate danger, Nye laid out a three-step plan, with an emphasis on “[raising] the standard of living for girls and women worldwide.”

Each step involves providing all people on Earth with a resource that will help enhance the well-being of society. The three Nye listed were clean water, renewable energy and access to the Internet.

Nye moved on to discuss his time at Cornell, citing a couple moments that “changed [his] life,” based around an astronomy class he took with Prof. Carl Sagan. The first was his decision to join the Planetary Society, created by Sagan. Nye eventually became a member of its board of trustees and is currently its CEO.

The second moment that Nye discussed occurred at his ten-year reunion, in a conversation with Sagan.

“He gave me one piece of advice that changed the way I produced the [Bill Nye the] Science Guy show. He said [to] focus on science, not technology, because kids resonate to pure science. That shaped everything I did as a performer, writer and author.”

The scientist’s speech then took a political turn, as he “command[ed]” the crowd to vote, as it is “how we make real changes.”

“If you don’t want to vote, would you please just shut up,” Nye told the audience, to laughter. “The rest of us are out changing things for the better.”

Nye concluded his speech by imploring the graduating class of 2019 to reflect on what they accomplished by graduating.

“Your diploma will be worth more tomorrow than it is today. It will be worth more – far more – in ten years,” the Cornell alum noted. “Cornell is just an extraordinary institution that teaches you how to think and how to interact with the world.”

The full speech can be viewed online here.