I was honored this year to be asked to give the commencement address at the Central Park East High school by Bennett Lieberman, one of the City's most outstanding principals. This graduating class was one of the best academically achieving classes ever, with many going onto top universities in the nation. I'm delighted that Girls Inc. of New York City's programs played a part in that success.
In thinking about my own life experiences since graduation and what might have helped me during those years, I have come up with three things; three laws that can make a huge difference in your life no matter what you decide to do or be. Three laws that speak about how the invisible and magic in life works.
First, as you leave these great halls of Central Park East High School (CPEHS), one of the best schools in the city, remember an important scientific discovery called the "Butterfly Effect."
The Butterfly Effect started with a doctoral thesis in 1963, presented to the New York Academy of Sciences. It says: small changes in any system, in your school, your home or your own life, can have a huge effect thousands of miles away. That's why they call it the Butterfly Effect because a butterfly flapping its wings in California can unleash a tornado on the other side of the planet.
Many thought it was crazy, but physics professors in the mid 90's proved it was accurate and it worked. Just like the law of gravity, it works and we’ve all seen it. In financial markets, we've seen that small change in our economy can set off a huge chain of events, a boom or a bust in others countries around the world. It works in biology. When Alexander Fleming, a scientist in London, discovered penicillin, it was by mistake. He was trying to find a cure for deadly staph infections in 1928 and set a laboratory dish containing the bacteria near an open window. But a tiny bit of mold blew in through the open window onto the dish, contaminating the bacteria. Fleming thought his experiment was ruined. But when he looked closely at it under his microscope, he saw a clear zone around the mold. The mold was dissolved the deadly staphylococcus bacteria, and penicillin was discovered in that very moment. By the small effects of an accident.
It works with people too.
A fellow named Andy Andrews who wrote a book about the Butterfly Effect tells a story about George Washington Carver, who Time Magazine called the black Leonardo da Vinci. As a student at Iowa State University, he had a science professor that had his little boy spend time with Carver, every weekend. Carver was bright and he wanted his little boy to learn from him. True to form, Carver inspired him and filled his little mind with visions of feeding the worlds starving people. Who was that little boy? The little boy was Henry Wallace, who became one of FDR's vice presidents, and allocated the funds to create a scientific way to make it happen. A guy by the name of Norman Borlaug was selected for the task and invented a way to make corn and wheat grow in dry climates and resist disease and by his discoveries found a way to feed and actually save the lives of two billion people.
For his work, Dr. Norman Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize and has been called "The man who saved more lives than anyone who has ever lived." But it all started with the butterfly flapping wings of George Washington Carver and had a profound effect on the lives of two billion people!
What does that have to do with you? "Every single thing you do matters. It matters to you and to all of us."
You have been created as one of a kind. You have been created in order to make a difference. You have within you the power to change the world if you realize that small changes you make in your life can have huge effects, not just on your own life, but the lives of others.
Second, whatever you achieve inwardly will change your outside world. Change your inner world, and the world outside of you will reflect that change. How do you do that? By changing your thoughts. Changing your thought patterns will create major changes in the world around you.
A famous author named Louise Hay, who healed herself of ovarian cancer tells the story of how she would wake up in the morning depressed. She would say to herself, ' "Oh man, another lousy day." and sure enough, she would have another lousy day! And then she read about how your attitude affects your health. And she decided to make a small change. She decided she would wake up and think: I am so thankful for this day.
Changing her thoughts first thing in the morning created an entirely new feeling inside of her; a feeling that changed her biochemistry and changed her ability to fight disease. Happy thoughts, she learned to create happy chemicals in your body. Bad thoughts, create bad biochemicals. You get to chose your thoughts, whether they're based in love or fear. Fear and anger will be players in your life, but you get to decide how much. You can spend your whole life worrying, being afraid you'll fail, being afraid you don't have enough, afraid people will judge you, will turn on you because you're not doing things their way. But fear based decisions will only bring more fear, more conflict, and disappointment.
When you choose to love, not a mushy love, but love that carries a sense of compassion, understanding, and you make decisions that come from a higher-better place, something changes inside you that has great power. And you learn life's most important lessons from that place, lessons like having to give to receive. You have to surrender to something higher than yourself to gain inner strength. You have to conquer your desire to get what you crave. The most powerful of all and the best way to transform the world is to transform yourself inside. When you do, the world around you will change dramatically.
The last law takes this one step further and is something Einstein talked about. He said imagination is more important than knowledge. A strong imagination is crucial because it will fulfill your dreams. In a very real sense, the ability to envision and feel yourself already experiencing the thing you wish for but cannot yet see will bring it to you. Studies actually show that things exist energetically before we can see and touch them. And it turns out that your imagination can create these energy patterns and your mind can't tell the difference between what is real and what is imagined.
Many times what we really want seems impossibly out of reach, so we never dare to imagine it. But if you imagine it vividly, as though it's already in your life, it will come to pass.
So as you leave CPEHS, use your imagination to tackle the big questions, like George Washington Carver did, and avoid the things that would make you small or trivial. Many of us are asking why there is so much fighting, polarization, violence in the world today. We have all seen policemen, lunging when they should have been more mindful, humane; mentally disturbed people shooting and killing as if that would cure their pain and suffering; poverty that depresses the spirit and shatters dreams.
You have the power to bring new promise, new solutions and if you can imagine them and tap into the part of you that exists beyond your personality - we can call it your soul —which is as bright and shining as Marks , bright as Gandhi's, bright as Borlaug's. Imagine what you would achieve and clear away everything that keeps you separate from this place, and your outside world will eventually assume that reality, will appear as you imagined it, and you can be successful beyond your wildest dreams.