ESBS Motivational Speech

Motivational Speech at the ESBS

“École Supérieure de Biotechnologie de Strasbourg”

30th after the creation of ESBS, my “Promo 92” colleagues and myself were invited to Strasbourg, to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the creation of the Trinational Biotechnology Cursus (France, Switzerland & Germany). Here below is the text of a short “Motivational Speech” I gave for the occasion. A very emotional moment for my former schoolmates/teachers/friends and myself !!!

“Good morning everybody!

I feel enormously lucky to be with you today, surrounded by so many great minds. I also feel extremely fortunate to stand in front of the young generation of ESBS alumni. You guys do carry plenty of fresh blood and new ideas for the future.

My purpose today is to share with you some “insider views” and personal experiences about ESBS, and express how the school ecosystem has contributed to help me finding my way to happiness and personal fulfilement.

But before going that way, I would like to remind and honnor the memory of two exceptional individuals, connected to ESBS. I am referring on one hand to Mr. Jean-François LEFÈVRE, former Director of ESBS, that hired me, coached me and helped me all over my studies, and on the other hand, to Mr. Adrien ZELLER, former president of the Alsace region. Life is full of surprises. While living in Barcelona, and through an amazing set of coincidences, I became member of the « Association des Alsaciens de Catalogne » and had the priviledge to get to know Mr. Adrien ZELLER. We spoke a lot about about innovation, entrepreneurship and the ESBS. I am sure both of them would have loved to be with us today and would feel very proud to have contributed to this success!

Twenty years ago, it was not all romantic! The ESBS was housed in a very old facility, the school organization was questionable, and most of the french students, had a very hard time learning German (I remember making my life miserable by heading into a bakery and asking for an : « Abfall Kuchen… »). But at the end of the day, this was really negligible in front of the rest. I was coming from a small village in the Alps, and I was almost “virgin”, but we immediately started exchanging a lot of microbes together, and it was great! There was something unique and extremely powerful at ESBS, and that was driving us. It was pure “pioneer spirit”! Everybody was doing its best to set appart differences and focus on common needs! We were passionate, and in my student room I pinned on the wall a copy of the paper describing the isolation of the first “TATA-binding factor” by Pr. Pierre CHAMBON’s group, among pictures of Mötley Crüe and my Girl friend! It was timeless, engaging and fun!

Now, 20 years later, in the middle of my existence, this celebration sounds like a ritual. And you know what? I love rituals! I do not love rituals because of religious belief, no, no. I love rituals because they are ALL ABOUT TRANSFORMATION. In the most primitive tribes, becoming adult, getting married or passing away is always associated with strong rituals. And they are just there as a signal to the rest of the world that something has finished, and something important is about to start. It happened to me 20 years ago, and it will soon become a reality for you too. It is a unique and super refreshing moment, and I really hope you will enjoy it. It is priceless!

Now, I would like to share with you some thoughts about : (i) EDUCATION, (ii) CRISIS & DISRUPTION, (iii) CHANGING THE WORLD.

EDUCATION: at the egress of ESBS, with my trinational Engineer degree in hand, I felt relieved. I naively thought that the pressure of aquiring new knowledge and learning was OVER! I saw the diploma as a « lighted match about to set fire to a gun powder fuse, attached to my butt ». I was burning hot and I wanted to live three lives at a time. Today, I cannot tell you how wrong I was. Over the last 20 years, my personal & professional lives have been punctuated by tons of news learnings. I had to actualize permanently my operating system (OS) and reset the clock many times. This is demanding and gives you the impression to live permanently in « Beta-testing mode »…but believe me, I did not find a better way to stay alive, up and running! This taught me a very important lesson: the day you stop learning, you are old ! … and you can be old at 25 or at 95, it is up to you ! So keep learning and most importantly, keep sharing !

CRISIS & DISRUPTION: I am living in Barcelona, Spain, a gorgeous place/country that I love. But currently it is being torn apart by a socio-economic, political and environmental crisis. Most of you have heard that the unemployement rate is skyrocketting. Recently I was fired and the perspectives are not that bright…But this is my advice: dont swallow this crap, don’t believe this shit ! The crisis is not a reality because reality simply does not exist. Although this may sound provocative, I will give you a very clear example. Imagine a cylinder in 3D, if you look through it along its central axis, you will see a circle. Now change your observation point and slide to a side view. The corresponding projection is a rectangle. Two different and opposite “realities” of the same object. So don’t leave the interests of others blind your vision and shade your dreams. Create your own reality and fight for it. Ashes are extremely fertiles and there will be plenty of opportunities to refurbish everything and build new stuff together! Don’t be afraid to loose everything. You have the potential to create twice as much!

CHANGING THE WORLD: when we got the Engineer degree/diploma, most of us wanted to create new stuff and make the world better. Honestly speaking, I have to recognize that in my case the result has been extremely humble. I did not change THE world, but I simply changed MY world. Many times, and I am very proud of it! Very often, it hurts, and to illustrate my purpose, I would like to cite the words of the great philosopher & boxer, Mr. Mike TYSON: « Failure is an interesting and abstract concept, until it punches you right in your face ».  It is painful, but worth trying, so try hard! To borrow the thoughts of the primatologist Mr. Robert SAPOLSKY : « it is almost impossible for a single person to make a difference, but you must try. The most difficult it is, the most important it is. Because you are educated, supported by your relatives, since you have networks & friends, there is nobody else in a better position to make it happen. It is a moral imperative. So do it and be happy along the road”.

As a conclusion, I would like to read a short quote from His Royal Highness the Dalai Lama. At some stage, he was asked what surprises him most. He had this magnificent reply that I would like to share with you: « Man surprises me most because he sacrifices his health to make money. Then he spends money to recover health. He is anxious about the future and doesn’t live the present. He lives as he would never die and dies as he would have never lived ».  From deep inside, I wish you all to avoid these pitfalls and have the healthiest, happiest and greatest life ever.

Thank you for you very much for your attention.”

Xavier BERTHET – Illkirch Graffenstaden, the 10th of November 2012.

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