Philip Emeagwali, biography, A Father of the Internet, supercomputer pioneer, Nigerian scientist, inventor
I Believe I Can Fly

Motivational Speech by Emeagwali in celebration of Black History Month.

Thank your Dr. Carlton Lampkins for the pleasant introduction. Good afternoon.

It is a pleasure to visit Willingboro High School and to join you in celebrating this year's Black History Month. Each year, the Black History Month has a nationwide theme. The theme for this year's Black History Month is "Celebrating Life, Building a Future."

"Building a Future" is a powerful theme that applies to each student in this audience because you are our future.

Everyone one of you has the potential to achieve anything you want in life. You were born with many talents that you don't even know you have.

Someone in this audience may become a famous writer, may travel to the planet Mars or discover the cure for AIDS.

However, to become successful requires that you set personal goals for yourself and then study and work hard to achieve them.

Setting personal goals is very important because those who do not have goals in life do not know where they are going. Those who do not know where there are going could end anywhere. They could end in prison. They could end on illegal drugs.

You must never, never, never experiment with any illegal drugs. It will ruin your life and the lives of those that love you. Those drug dealers standing in your street corners are trying to sell you a one-way ticket to nowhere.

My advice to every one of you is to write down your goals on a piece paper. Then discuss your goals with your friends, parents and teachers.

You should read your goals to yourself at least once a week. Reading your goals aloud helps you to stay focused. It creates a positive attitude that is necessary to overcome the obstacles that you will encounter along the way.

A question that students often ask me is: "How can I overcome the major obstacles in life?"

When I was 12 years old, I lived in a new African country called Biafra, which was at war with Nigeria.

Because of the 30-month Nigerian-Biafran war, my family became homeless. We slept in abandoned school classrooms.

We were refugees, our schools were closed and I was forced to drop out of school for six years, when I was still in the 8th grade.

We ate only once a day. Some days we had nothing to eat. We were among the poorest families in the world.

Growing up poor and overcoming several obstacles made me a stronger person. I became more determined succeed in life.

Similarly, the obstacles that you will encounter in your life should make you a stronger person. Overcoming obstacles is your preparation for the challenges that you will encounter in the future.

I will recommend that you write your plan of action for overcoming any obstacle that comes in your way.

After dropping out of school in the 8th grade, I developed a plan of action. I planned to pursue my education by self-study. I studied from 6:00 in the morning to midnight, until I earned my high school equivalency.

Earning my high school diploma opened a lot of doors for me. It enabled me to enroll in college and eventually earn graduate degrees in five different fields and become a scientist.

Another question that students often ask me is: "What did it take you to reach your goals in life?"

The answer is that I stayed in school and completed my education. I always put in the necessary study time.

I limited my associations with undesirable friends. I never smoked or used drugs and I avoided alcohol.

I learned from my mistakes and from the mistakes of others. I tried to be persistent and accepted disappointments and failures as a learning experience.

You must always do your homework. My personal experience with doing my homework is that practice makes perfect. This is especially true for difficult subjects such as mathematics and science.

When I was ten years old, my father insisted that I solve 100 mathematics problems each day. Due to my daily practice, I became very good in mathematics. You will become very good in mathematics when you solve 100 problems each day.

Today, I solve more than 100 mathematics problems a day. I use supercomputers to solve billions and billions and billions of mathematics problems each day.

Ten years ago, I could only afford a personal computer but that was too slow to solve my problems. The types of problems that I wanted to solve required computers that are one million times faster than any computer that had ever been built.

However, I knew that I could solve my scientific problem twice as fast by dividing it into two parts and assigning each part to two computers. I then asked myself: "Can I solve my problem 65,000 times faster by dividing it into 65,000 parts and assigning each part to 65,000 computers?" I did that, and to my surprise, my computation was 65,000 times faster. In fact, I achieved a computational speed of 3.1 billion (3,100,000,000) calculations per second.

That was a world record in 1989.

To break the world record, I used the Internet to connect to a different type of computer that had 65,000 processors. It is called a parallel computer.

Ten years ago, it was believed that it would be impossible to use thousands of processors to solve one problem. Today, we know that we can and the technology of using thousands of processors to build a supercomputer is accepted. The most powerful computers in the world now use thousands of processors.

This new technology has hundreds of applications. You can use them to discover and recover oil; forecast the weather; or predict how AIDS infection will spread in a given population.

Those of you who surf on the Internet use parallel computers and don't even know it. They are used to make busy Internet sites and search engines work faster. Parallel computers enable one million people to simultaneously connect to the same web site.

The personal computers you use do not yet use thousands of processors. They use about 30 different processors to make them more powerful. However, in the future, more processors will be used to make your personal computer more powerful

To get back to my original point, I was a student doing my homework when I broke the world's computational speed record.

Not only did homework help me improve my grades, it also taught me discipline, responsibility, a love for learning and how to work independently.

Each evening and no matter how tired you are, you must set aside three hours for homework. During this period, you cannot receive telephone calls, watch television or play video games. During the weekend, you can complete sixteen hours of homework.

Japanese students study every evening, weekends and holidays. You too should study every evening, weekends and holidays.

In Japan, students from 3rd to 9th grade enroll in private lessons called juku. These lessons start after school and continue until dinnertime. Japanese students attend juku full time during the holidays and summer vacations.

Since Japanese students spend more time studying than American students, they are better in mathematics and science subjects. Similarly, you can improve your grades by studying as hard as the Japanese students.

You can become the most brilliant student in Willingboro. But you must study in the evenings; study on weekends; and study on holidays.

As R. Kelly sang: "I believe I can fly. I believe I can touch the sky. I think about it every night and day. Spread my wings and I fly away. I believe I can soar..." You can soar if you believe in yourself.

I want to close with one important message: Education is our investment in your future.

For that reason, we expect you to study hard. You should study hard not because it is easy, but because you will be the beneficiary tomorrow of the homework that you completed today.

Education will bring the best out of you and enable you to fulfill your potential, achieve your goals and live your dreams.

Thank you and God bless you all.

Emeagwali's speech was followed by an hour-long photo session. During a two-day period (February 25/26, 1999), Emeagwali spoke in five Willingboro public schools, addressed the local School Board and Parents Teachers Association.

Willingboro High School is the alma mater of Carl Lewis, the nine-time Olympic Gold medalist.

The five-school visit event was written in the "Philadelphia Inquirer" and the "Burlington County Times" as follows:

He's an intellectual inspiration

Inventor, scientist pays visit to e-mail pal in Willingboro


Emeagwali won the 1989 Gordon Bell Prize, which has been called "supercomputing's Nobel Prize," for inventing a formula that allows computers to perform their fastest computations - a discovery that inspired the reinvention of supercomputers. He was extolled by then U.S. President Bill Clinton as "one of the great minds of the Information Age" and described by CNN as "a Father of the Internet;" and is the most searched-for scientist on the Internet.

Philip Emeagwali, biography, A Father of the Internet, supercomputer pioneer, Nigerian scientist, inventor

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Philip Emeagwali, biography, A Father of the Internet, supercomputer pioneer, Nigerian scientist, inventor