Graduation 2012: Cape Town campus
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Graduation 2012: Cape Town campus

I first heard of Elon Musk about five years ago, and have been following his career ever since.

Musk started PayPal, the online payment platform in 2000. In 2002 he sold PayPal to eBay for $1.5 Billion US$. Shortly after this he launched Space X, a company aimed at building the world’s most advanced rockets and spacecraft. Last night I looked at News24 and almost missed a small article titled “Space X Dragon capsule heads home”.

Thembinkozi Sikhondze, Thokozile Ndevu, Kingdom Magagula

The article reported that the Dragon cargo capsule left the International Space Station early this week and was due to land in the sea off Mexico yesterday afternoon. Effectively Space X has a contract from NASA to do the job that the now retired space shuttles used to do. Flights carrying passengers are due to start in 2015.

Goals + achievements = success

Musk makes it clear that his ultimate goal is to get humans onto Mars during his lifetime. Amongst his other achievements, Musk is CEO and head of product design at Tesla Motors, the American electric car company. Tesla is most famous for its Roadster, the world’s first electric sports car.

As Chairman of Solar City, Musk spearheads efforts to reduce global warming and minimise air pollution. What kind of person starts a space exploration business when even NASA has stopped sending people into space? The kind of person who makes electric cars which are not only green, but also sporty and fun to drive.

The same kind of person who started PayPal when everyone else thought accepting credit card payments over the internet was crazy. Elon Musk has made a success of going against conventional wisdom. This is a man who has transformed the world around him as much if not more than Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or Mark Shuttleworth.

Make your mark

Despite these achievements, you may be wondering why I have chosen to talk about him. There are a few reasons:

  1. Musk attended Pretoria Boys’ High School. Once finished with school, he moved overseas to make his mark on the world. You too, have the skills, and now the qualifications, to go anywhere you choose to make your mark. Only you can determine how big that mark will be.
  2. Within a few years commercial space travel will be a reality and with time will become more and more affordable. Space X and Richard Branson’s Virgin are just two of the players in this market. With space tourism will come a demand for space hospitality. Are you ready to seize these opportunities when they arise? How big do you want your mark to be?
  3. Musk is very clear that he does what he does because he is passionate about making a difference, not a profit. I don’t believe that we have to be unconventional to be successful, but clearly leaving a mark as big as Musk already has, requires thinking big.

My wish for you tonight is that you will find your passion in life, and will not be afraid to think big, bigger than you have ever imagined, and certainly bigger than we have ever taught you to. Thank you.

Alan Lester, Cape Town Campus Principal

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Graduation 2012: Cape Town campus