PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — The year 1776 marked not only the nation’s Declaration of Independence, but the first Commencement for what is now known as Brown University to take place at the First Baptist Church in America, on Providence’s North Main Street.
It’s safe to say that none of that day’s speakers offered an inspirational speech authored by ChatGPT.
Yet 247 years later, that’s precisely what University President Christina H. Paxson delivered when she stepped to the podium on the hallowed grounds of the same church to address students earning bachelor’s degrees in Brown’s Class of 2023. Her speech was “complete drivel,” Paxson admitted — “It is boring. It is bland. It is completely forgettable.”
Thankfully, it wasn’t her real address.
Paxson had asked the ubiquitous AI bot to compose a 1,000-word inspirational speech for a university president to give to graduating seniors. She read 92 words of predictable and cliché sentiments, paused abruptly and made her point: The computer-generated speech was, worse than anything else, inauthentic.
“Now, I could have improved it. I could have asked it to include references to the Open Curriculum or how Brown students are the architects of their own educations…” she said of the ChatGPT version. “But it wouldn’t have reflected anything about this graduating class… and it wouldn’t have reflected the experience that we’ve shared over the last four years. And it would convey nothing about how I feel about you.
Paxson’s remarks — the AI intro and her authentic insights that followed — came during the College Ceremony on Sunday, May 28, during Brown’s Commencement and Reunion Weekend. This year’s 1,682 seniors had processed through the Van Wickle Gates and down College Street through a raucous welcome from Brown alumni. At the First Baptist Church, they gathered on the lawn, took in the president’s advice and then turned their tassels to the left as their bachelor’s degrees were officially conferred.