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Graduation Address to the class of 2020 by Phil Spencer, EVP of Gaming at Microsoft


June 19, 2020

Phil Spencer, Executive Vice President of Gaming and Xbox at Microsoft, delivered the 2020 Graduation Address for the University of Washington's Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering Graduation & Awards Ceremony.

Phil Spencer is a graduate of the UW's Technical Communication department, which later became the HCDE department it is today. Presenting during HCDE's 30th anniversary as a department and his 30th anniversary with Microsoft, Spencer reminded the graduates to cherish their HCDE and UW peers, saying "The people you go to school with, you study with, learn with: they matter. Beyond the education and the degree you are getting today, they are part of the social fabric you have woven around you. And that will sustain you in the years to come."

Spencer discussed the social inequities present in our society, and the critical role today's graduates will play in designing a more just future.

"As we see the protests in our street against oppression, violence, and systemic racism, it is a devastating reminder to me that everyday regular life for Black communities is fraught with danger. Going to work, raising a child, taking a walk in the park, riding the bus. Racism is not a people of color problem, it's a human problem. It's not a U.S. problem, it's a global problem. And I hope we will all make a commitment today to step up to solve it."

"In this moment of uncertainty," Spencer said, "the world is undertaking a paradigm shift. A shift in how we think about work, about equality, about the planet, and about each other. This paradigm shift calls for fresh thinking and new talent. Key to navigating these shifts will be the knowledge and skills for creating technology innovation through a human-centered lens. Skills that you've all gained as part of your HCDE education." 

"The social fabric of our world is changing, accelerated by a pandemic. Its inequalities laid bare by the social unrest. How will empathy between people also change if we are no longer so easily willing to shake hands or meet face-to-face? This is the ultimate challenge facing us, and one that you are uniquely equipped to answer. How do we design towards a more just and equal world? How do we design technology to be human-centered, so that the face-to-face interactions of yesterday can be performed virtually tomorrow without bias, exclusivity, or fear?"

Spencer also spoke about his work at Xbox, and about the power of play to bring people together. He shared a personal story about how gaming helped him form a friendship with someone he says he would have likely never known in the physical world. To the class of 2020, Spencer said, "I see amazing opportunity for this class to have an impact on how the intersection of technology, engineering, and human potential can achieve more. Please ensure these new interactions are designed around humans. Around access for all, human empathy, human learning, societal growth, and human opportunity. I know it's a big charter. But I also know that it's what graduates of the Human Centered Design & Engineering Department at my alma mater can tackle and achieve."

Watch the 10-minute speech on YouTube, and learn more about Phil Spencer, here.