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Chu: ‘A geek is a nerd who is proud of it’


POTSDAM - Former U.S. Secretary of Energy and Nobel Laureate Steven Chu received an honorary doctor of science degree at Clarkson University’s 121st Commencement.

The degree was awarded for “his dedication to science and championing scientific inquiry; for his service to the betterment of this nation; for pioneering innovation in the search for sustainable forms of energy; for his commitment to collaboration and his leadership in exploring new solutions to the challenge of our changing climate; for his continuing work educating future generations and for inspiring the leaders of tomorrow to serve humanity and the ecology on which we depend.”

“I admit I was a techie, too,” said Chu in addressing the graduates. “I was so much of a techie growing up, I didn’t realize how nerdy I was. I didn’t realize you should try to hide how nerdy you were. That made me a geek. What’s the difference? A geek is a nerd who’s proud of it.

“You might look at my bio and say, ‘Whoa, this guy did a lot.’ But it wasn’t always so. In ninth grade, I didn’t want to go to school, so I stopped.”

Chu said that, after eventually finishing high school, it was in college where he learned about self-confidence.

“My teachers began to build my self-confidence,” Chu said. “And from what I’ve seen of Clarkson, there’s a lot of that going on here.

“I learned early in life that failing is actually OK. It’s important to fail. And I tell my students that if you live your life without failures, then that’s the biggest failure of your life. You would have never known what you could’ve done. In my scientific career, three quarters of the stuff I tried did not work. The secret is, when you fail, you have to fail fast—and move on. You don’t want to spend a lifetime failing.”

In closing, Chu said, “I’m going to leave you with this thought. As I stand before you, old and gray, you have your life before you. Time will flash by faster than you can imagine. So do what excites you, what you care about. Do something you really believe in. Above all, enjoy life.”

Chu is the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Physics and Professor of Molecular and Cellular Physiology at Stanford University. From January 2009 until April 2013 Chu served as the 12th U.S. Secretary of Energy under President Barack Obama.

As the longest serving energy secretary, he began several initiatives, including ARPA-E (Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy), the Energy Innovation Hubs, and the Clean Energy Ministerial meetings. During his tenure, the deployment of renewable energy in the U.S. doubled.

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