Via aucegypt.edu by Ahmed Zewail--read on.
When I crossed the ocean on my way to the United States in August of 1969, I was not dreaming of a Nobel Prize, nor was I dreaming of acquiring a Bill Gates fortune. Armed with a fine education I received in Egypt, I was simply on a quest for knowledge and a PhD degree from a reputable institution in the United States. At the time, my English was so poor that at restaurants, I used to order “deserts” instead of desserts. America was a magnet for many members of my generation because of its leadership in science and technology and its unique democratic values. The historic landing of Neil Armstrong on the moon in July of 1969 was enough to demonstrate America’s outlook on the new frontiers of revolutionary knowledge.
I was aware of Edison’s dictum, “Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration,” and I took advantage of being in the right place at the right time—of being in America and at the California Institute of Technology, or Caltech. In fact, it was Caltech’s ambiance and the country’s system of support that made it possible for a young assistant professor to carry out, with his team, research that in only ten years’ time would define a discipline that was recognized by the Nobel Prize in 1999.
People often ask me, “How does one get a Nobel Prize, and what is the secret to success?” I believe it was passion for science that supplied the energy, and it was optimism that made the almost-impossible possible. Success comes to the prepared mind. Success is not like rain that falls from the sky equally upon everyone: success is what you reap when you sow with passion and optimism.
Times have changed, the world is more complex, and the America of today is not the one I came to in the 1960s. We are now in the so-called “global age,” threatened by chemical, biological, and nuclear disasters, and the United States faces real challenges: the rise of economic superpowers such as China and India, the conflicts and wars overseas, and—most importantly, in my view—the change in cultural, educational, and political values.
Yes, there are challenges and changes. But, if I take Caltech graduates as an example, today they can still make their own success in their own way. I would add that they are fortunate to have received an exceptional education in a 21st-Century developed-world society. The education they received is unaffordable to nearly 80 percent of the six billion people on the planet who make merely a dollar a day. As importantly, America continues to provide them with opportunities that even today cannot be found elsewhere in the world. And they are free to speak and worship as they please; they can sleep at night without fear of the government or police. These fundamental values are embedded in the foundation of the American constitution, which is built on the pillars of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Our world today is full of opportunity, and graduates have a unique role to play because of the special education they receive in the sciences and the rational thinking that this education has instilled. We should not listen to pessimists; rather, forge ahead to share the experience in whatever field we are passionate about, which could be business, government, law, art, or science.