Editor’s Note: Jimmy presented the following speech at the University of Michigan – Shanghai Jiao Tong University Joint Institute (UM-SJTU JI)’s commencement ceremony on April 27, 2018.
Professor Huang, university leadership, faculty, parents, and the graduating class of UM-SJTU, thank you for inviting me to celebrate with you today.
I believe that for most of you, your goal has always been very clear: Study hard. This goal has gotten you very far. You got into the best high school in China. Study hard. You got into UM-SJTU. Study hard. You got to Ann Arbor. Study hard. You are now graduating at the top of your class. Congratulations to you, your remarkable journey, and accomplishments. You’ve come incredibly far from where you started.
Now, however, studying hard will no longer be the only “decision” that you have to make. Your goal is not so clear. Some of you will stay here, and some of you will leave. Some of you will go to graduate school, and some of you will work. All of you will hopefully continue cheering for Michigan football. Today, I want to talk to you about my story, and some of the decisions I had to make.
Just like you, I came to Michigan for my junior and senior years of undergraduate education. My life before I came to Ann Arbor was quite uneventful. I went to 3 different schools, in 3 countries, in 4 years. I did my 9th grade in Taiwan, half of the 10th grade and half of the 11th grade in the Dominican Republic, and then my senior year of high school in Toledo, Ohio.
It was never planned to happen that way.
I was born and raised in Taiwan. My father is from mainland China and my mother is a native Taiwanese. When my father learned that it may be possible to leave Taiwan, he sold everything we had in 3 months and moved us to the Dominican Republic so that he could go back to China without worrying for our safety. At that time, Taiwan was still under martial law. Any communication with China was considered treason. I was 15 years old.
The Dominican Republic turned out to be a lovely but very poor country. In the spring of 1980, there was a hurricane that pretty much destroyed the capital, Santo Domingo. Our school was shut down. After one month of no electricity, my parents wanted my sister and me to use our tourist visas—which we’d gotten previously through an exchange program to Toledo, Ohio—to go to the US. My parents told us “try not to come back because there is really no future there”. I did not see my parents again until I got my bachelor degree from the University of Michigan in 1985.
Although I was fortunate enough to get into Michigan in 1983, I was really concerned that the money that my parents gave us would not last me through college. Then, I was lucky to find a job to write programs for Cray Supercomputer. I was fascinated by the power of the internet. I switched my major to be more software-focused at graduate school. At that time, it was a risky move for me because it was hard to get a job as a foreign student in that because of national security.
It changed my life. In 1995, 10 years after I graduated from Michigan, I decided to start my own company but didn’t know how to tell my wife. At that time my wife already quit her faculty job at the University of Michigan to care for our growing family. How do I tell her that I want to start a company with no revenue, no business connections, and or any other financial backing? I waited until she took the children back to Asia to fax her with the news. What I wrote on fax was “Honey, I just joined an exciting technology company called Logic Solutions. I am the employee #1”.
Moving forward to today. With offices in Ann Arbor and Shanghai, I have the fortune of working with many JI students throughout the years. We have hired many interns and sponsored the capstone projects. Several weeks ago I was interviewing a JI student. She told me that she has such an enormous pressure. Every one of her fellow JI students is getting high GPA, job offers from name brand company, or getting into a top graduate program.
My path from Taiwan, to the Dominican Republic, to Toledo, to Ann Arbor, to starting a company was never carefully planned. It involves decisions and risks in every step of the way. So don’t be afraid to take risks and make decisions. Small risks might yield big rewards, and temporary setbacks will strengthen your success.
From this point on, your decisions should be based on your passion, not someone else’s. Go to graduate school only if you want to go to graduate school. Go to work for Facebook only if that interests you. Go to work for a non-profit if you think that would give you the greatest satisfaction. Go back to China if you think you can excel there. If you want to start your own company, there is never a better or worse time than now. Whatever your heart desires, just do it. You have nothing more to prove. You are graduating from the finest program in the world. You spent all your life competing, studying hard, to get to this point. I hope that your next move is to do something for your own passion.
Oh, one more thing: Grow and leverage the network that you had developed at Michigan. Make sure that you follow football, basketball. Trust me. The knowledge of Michigan football and basketball games will serve you well. Wherever you go, don’t forget “Go Blue”. Thank you.