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May 9, 2023

What if AI helped write a commencement speech?

Prabu David is Vice Provost for Faculty and Academic Staff Development, Interim Associate Provost for Teaching and Learning Innovation and Dean of the College of Communication Arts and Sciences and has served as Dean of the College of Communication Arts and Sciences and WKAR Radio and TV since 2015.

For his remarks at the ComArtSci 2023 commencement ceremony on May 5, he asked ChatGPT for a little bit of help. Learn how he interacted with AI in the following video or read transcript of the speech below.

Speech transcript

So, what is grace?

To answer the question, I did what every student would do, I asked ChatGPT.

We have many generations in the audience today and if you haven't heard of ChatGPT, it's a super smart computer program that has learned all the information available on the internet and can answer any question.

So, when I asked ChatGPT, “What is grace?” It said, “Grace is a quality that can be difficult to define but we all know it when we see it.”

Hmm, so how does that help me? I wasn't very sure.

So, I took ChatGPT's advice and asked it to show me examples of grace that I could see. By seeing, I thought I could learn about grace.

It gave me 10 influencers and social media celebrities. They were beauty and lifestyle influencers, fashionistas, branding and expert marketing experts essentially like the Kardashians and the Jenners. They all had millions of followers and offered great tips about makeup and fashion. And if you're wondering why I look so fashionable today in my cap and gown, credit the fashionistas.

I was hoping for more from ChatGPT and asked for a dad joke about grace. It gave me this, “Why did the tomato turn red? Because it saw the salad dressing.

“Gracefully tossed of course,” it added.

I chuckled and told ChatGPT, “Even for a dad joke, that's pretty bad.”

ChatGPT seemed hurt by my insensitivity. It apologized for the previous joke. “Not being up to your standard,” it said.

“Here is another one,” it offered. “Why did the chicken cross the road with grace? To get to the other side without causing any fuss.”

So, by now, I knew ChatGPT had its limitations. Actually, ChatGPT was quite brilliant.

When I entered well-formulated prompts, it gave me a beautiful speech in 30 seconds that would've taken me hours to write and you wouldn't have guessed that a computer wrote it.

Yes, it was cliched and predictable, but it had all the ingredients, quotes, compelling stories, inspiring words, and polished language.

With some cajoling. I finally learned from ChatGPT that grace is the quality of being kind, forgiving and compassionate.

Kind, forgiving and compassionate.

So as you embark on life in the real world, I hope you practice kindness, forgiveness and compassion.

ChatGPT gave me many transformative leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Princess Diana and even Mr. Rogers. They're all examples of the power of grace. But you don't have to look at famous people. Just look in the rafters to your grandparents, parents, family and friends. I'm sure you'll find living examples of grace, ordinary people who are kind, forgiving and compassionate. Follow in their footsteps, the footsteps of your everyday hero.

Also, use your secret superpower, which is communication. As a graduate of our college, you have learned how to communicate. Put it to good use.

ChatGPT gave me a brilliant nugget that was new to me. It offered an encouraging verse from the Scriptures as part of the script, which says, “Let your conversations be full of grace, seasoned with salt.”

Let your conversations be full of grace. Listen well and choose your words wisely. Use your words to lift people up not to put people down. As instruments of peace, not as instruments of war. To harmonize and not to sow discord.

In a deeply polarized, dysfunctional and fractured world, your conversations filled with grace, can be the balm.

Also, remember to season your conversations with salt. That's not a license to use salty language, quite the contrary. In this context, salt is used as a preservative and seasoning agent. The preserving power of salt is a pointer to the lasting impact of words. And the seasoning power of salt is a pointer to add spice to your language. Seek out conversations that can have a lasting effect by being bold, creative and caring in your choice of words.

Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Practice kindness, forgiveness and compassion in your conversations to create positive feelings in others.

In closing, here are some lessons to take with you.

One, make ChatGPT your best friend. You must learn to coexist with AI — chatbots and robots that are coming for your jobs and are wickedly smart.

Two, fashionistas don't have the final word on grace. Look to your everyday heroes instead. My everyday hero is my mom who is near the end of her life. As a school teacher in a hot, humid and bustling city of Chennai in South India she cared for kids from poor fishing families.

She carried herself with grace, making many sacrifices for our family. The mothers and grandmothers in our audience can easily relate to her. An early Mother's Day to mothers and grandmothers in our audience.

And my mom loved words. Inspired me to write, encouraged me to use rhyme and metaphor to dream and to care for those who were overlooked. She showed me how to use the encouraging words. She taught me how to season my words with salt.

This is my last commencement as your dean. I'll miss our students and community of faculty and staff.

It has been a privilege to serve you.

As you set out to follow your dreams, I'll leave you with this encouragement: Let your conversations be full of grace, seasoned with salt.

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