Bill Nye the “Science Guy” plans to address a crowd of nearly 7,000 people at University of Massachusetts Lowell’s undergraduate commencement ceremony on May 17. In true commencement speech form, Nye will likely shower eager graduates with encouragement and words of advice.
But he doesn’t expect any of the students in the crowd will remember what he tells them.
“What I want people to remember is how they feel,” Nye said. “They are going to make the world what it becomes. They should feel optimistic and empowered.”
Nye recalled his own graduation from Cornell University in 1977. William Gordon, who founded the Arecibo telescope, spoke at his convocation but Nye doesn’t remember what about.
“I just remember being happy to graduate,” said Nye, who already had his first out-of-college job lined up as an engineer with Boeing.
Indeed, there will be students who will be listening and will remember. After all, he’ll be addressing the generation of students that grew up watching his legendary show, “Bill Nye the Science Guy,” which originally aired from 1993 to 1998 (This current class was born around 1990). Nye has been credited for instilling children with a love for science and inspiring them to pursue careers in the science, technology, engineering and math fields.
His show has transcended generations with the emergence YouTube and other video libraries which have preserved episodes of the show and allowed viewers to watch the program on-demand at home and in classrooms worldwide.
“We focused the show on sure science, and it’s stood the test of time,” said Nye. “I put my heart and soul into it. It was a real attempt with me to change the world.”
Nye accepted an invitation from the university to speak at the commencement because — if we couldn’t already tell from his show — he enjoys speaking to young people.
“The thing about young people or those just starting out is that they’re fearless,” said Nye. “That is a great value of young people in research. You don’t know that you can’t do it, or you’re not supposed to be able to do it.”
But Nye acknowledged that graduates will be entering an unpredictable world strewn with problems. His advice, likely to be told to UMass Lowell graduates, is to raise the standards of women and girls worldwide.
“That’s my formula for success,” said Nye.
Women and girls have been traditionally excluded from the sciences, a field that he called, “the best idea we’ve ever had as a species.”
“The opportunity that we’re missing is girls in middle school and early high school,” said Nye.
The solution, he says, is simple.
“The single most reliable indicator of whether a child will pursue a career in science or engineering is algebra,” said Nye. “I believe we can have symbols represent numbers at an earlier grade so they can become more comfortable with it.”
Studies have suggested that children acquire a lifelong passion for science as young as age 10. That’s exactly why Nye’s show was geared toward 10-year-olds, he said.
Graduates on May 17 will be slightly older than age 10. Still, Nye will likely use his signature combination of science meets entertainment to share his formula for success. Because, “if you’re going to do anything, you should be funny,” he said.Follow Lara on Twitter: @BostonLara