May 14, 2007
Commencement Speaker: YouTube's Jawed Karim
Posted by Christine Hurt

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to represent the College of Law at the university commencement ceremony at the University of Illinois.  This honor is surprisingly bestowed on new, junior faculty.  Hmmm.  However, this time I think I won the coin flip.

The commencement speaker was Jawed Karim, co-founder of YouTube, who will celebrate his 28th birthday this week.  Karim is the first recipient of the Chancellor's No Boundaries award here at U of I, an honor reserved for alumni under 40 "whose accomplishments refelct the Illinois heritage of excellence, service and global reach."  Karim began his career as a computer science student in 1997, leaving the university in 2000 to join a start-up called PayPal.  From there, he and two colleagues started YouTube, which of course was acquired by Google last year for over $1.6 billion.  Although Karim had already left YouTube to begin his doctoral degree in computer science at Stanford, his shares were worth over $60 million.  (The remaining two co-founders received over $300 million each.)  He now plans to become a professor.  So, what was his speech like?  (And no, I could not find it on YouTube this morning!)

Karim's speech was great.  It was short, it was funny, and it had video clips.  He advised students to always be open to opportunity and to take risks while you can (like leaving college while still young to try something brand new).  He apologized for ruining their gpa's by inventing YouTube!  He was self-deprecating when reminding students that things don't work right away.  In 1997, Karim's application to the University of Illinois' computer science department was rejected.  He wrote a letter asking them to reconsider, which they did.  (I would like to see a copy of this letter.  I've seen letters from law school candidates asking for their admissions decisions to be reconsidered, and they generally only confirm initial judgments!)  He also talked about how lame YouTube was in the beginning until users started uploading their own videos -- a concept that the founders had not envisioned.

The funniest line of the speech came when Karim explained that YouTube was launched on February 14, 2005.  I am paraphrasing, but he said something akin to:  "One of the best things about being a computer science major is that Valentine's Day is just like any other day."

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