Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Letter to a High School Senior

My neighbor asked me to write a senior letter for her daughter, Brittany, who is about to graduate from high school.  I had never heard of a senior letter before.  Here is what I was given:
A memorable Collins Hill tradition is the delivery, and reading, of senior letters during the senior breakfast (during Senior Week).  Senior letters are written by friends, family, and faculty members and turned in prior to the breakfast.  Typically these letters provide congratulatory remarks, words of encouragement, and advice for the future.

With this as a guideline here is what I wrote:

Dear Brittany,

Life is a succession of milestones, and as a senior about to graduate you have achieved one of the most important goals in your life.  Year after year you have listened to the lectures, done the assignments, and passed the tests, and your graduation is a testimonial to your work ethic and intelligence.  You have shown what it takes to make a distant event a reality.  Think about the day-after-day effort you made to show up at school and put in the work required to keep yourself headed for graduation day.  And in doing so you have created memories with self-travelers who were doing the same.  

I encourage you to think about the changes you have made to your life.  When you first started school many years ago, you could not read or write proficiently or perhaps not at all; you knew little about the history of the world; the various sciences were either unknown to you or mere curiosities; and your mathematical competence was in its infancy.  You likely had dreams about what you wanted to be when you grew up, and you might’ve replaced those dreams with others as you developed as a person.  

There was something else growing with you.  Information technology development has been like a fast ride into the science fiction pages of Asimov, Heinlein, or Bradbury, and it is a journey that is advancing at an exponential pace.  When your parents were born, computers cost in the millions and occupied large air-conditioned rooms; today, they are 100 million times more powerful, fit in your pocket, and cost only hundreds of dollars.  And they’re far more reliable.   What this means for you will depend on what you do with it.  But the potential impact on your life cannot be exaggerated.   

To clarify and emphasize, if a technology is improving at a linear rate, in 30 years it will be 30 times better.  If a technology is improving at an exponential rate, say doubling every year, then in 30 years the technology will be a billion times better.  

Though there is disagreement among experts about the rate of improvement, there is a consensus that the rate is exponential.  

This is the world you will be part of, Brittany.  I encourage you to embrace it and use it for positive ends.   

Congratulations, graduate, on all you have accomplished!

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