UCLA Medal Presentation to Martine Rothblatt

Speech

Good evening again. I’m glad to have you all here and very glad to present the UCLA Medal, our university’s highest award, to our distinguished alum Martine Rothblatt.

It’s not uncommon to hear terms like “visionary,” “forward-thinker” or even “over achiever.”  What is uncommon is to see those superlatives epitomized by one person to the extraordinary degree that they are epitomized by Martine Rothblatt.

Although some — maybe even Dr. Rothblatt herself — might question if indeed she is only one person: Inventor, lawyer, aviator, medical ethicist, writer, human rights advocate, parent, CEO, futurist, female, transgender, humanist and probably some terms she has yet to invent.

Walt Whitman, in his classic Leaves of Grass, famously wrote “I contain multitudes.” Well, Walt Whitman has got nothing on Martine Rothblatt!   The list of her identities is as boundless as her imagination and as robust as her determination to move beyond the boundaries that constrict us.

I think boundaries are not something Dr. Rothblatt has much use for. Time and again she has transcended them, always respecting the legal and ethical obligations we all live with. In her incredible career, she has created new communications technology, brought life-saving medications to market and defied pharmaceutical pricing schemes to ensure those medications are accessible — regardless of income.

She has challenged long-held notions of biology, technology and gender, and even questioned our traditional beliefs about mortality and immortality. In overcoming these boundaries, she invites the rest of us to embrace an expanded understanding of possibility.

While at UCLA, inspired by a visit to a satellite tracking station, she studied communications technology and wrote a thesis on direct broadcast satellites. Later, while pursuing a joint UCLA Law-MBA degree, she published five articles on satellite communications law. The work she did here later became the foundation for her successful efforts to push the field of satellite communications to new places.

Her explorations do not stop with wires and circuits; they extend to the heart, the mind and the self. On gender, she has written that “there are billions of people in the world and billions of unique gender identities.”

On the limits of our human lifespan, she writes in her book Virtually Human: The Promise and the Power of Digital Immortality, that the robotics technology she is helping develop and test will lead us to “confront new personal and social issues, primarily broadening the definition of the word ‘me.’”

One term we use a lot here at UCLA is “optimist.” But we don’t use it in the shallow sense. Optimism is not about a sunny disposition or just looking at the bright side. Optimism is a conviction, borne of experience, that hard work, good will and bringing our deepest thinking to our toughest problems is the best way for us to progress and flourish — as people, as communities and as a species. That is what Dr. Rothblatt’s life stands for.

Optimism means Dr. Rothblatt’s careful thinking about hard questions of technology and communications that eventually launched satellite radio and gave us GPS car navigation.

Optimism means her courage when she decided to embrace her own gender identity rather than be limited by the definitions of others’.

Optimism means her determination to defy the experts who said her daughter could not be saved from a fatal illness — and her success at creating a company to develop the medical treatments that would save her child and others.

Optimism means relentless resilience. She has explained that she “likes to hear why something can’t be done and then whittle down everyone one of those ‘can’ts’ one at a time.” If that is not an optimist, I don’t know what is!

Dr. Rothblatt has taken her UCLA education (a BA, a JD and an MBA) and used it to delve into the far reaches of space, to the minute realms of the human genome, and to the mysterious complexities of human identity and consciousness.

She is fond of the idea that we should “identify the ‘corridors of indifference’ and then run like hell down them.” I love that image: of her running down those corridors — bold, courageous and strong and serving as a role model for others who aspire to be equally bold, courageous and strong.

Dr. Rothblatt, I trust that in all of your explorations you will discover more ways of thinking, being and expanding and will add even more identities to your impressive list. Today, I am proud to add “UCLA Medal Winner” to that list.

Friends, please welcome Dr. Martine Rothblatt. Before I present the medal, I’d like everyone to hear this citation. It reads:

MARTINE ROTHBLATT:

Your bold thinking across disciplines and industries has made you a role model and influential leader in the business, technology, healthcare and transgender communities and more. Your fearless explorations have challenged and expanded the way we understand fundamental concepts ranging from communication to gender to the nature of consciousness and mortality. You approach problems with an insatiable curiosity and an unshakable commitment to crafting creative solutions. A visionary leader, you inspire others through your optimism, authenticity, clarity of purpose and pragmatic problem solving. With exceptional resilience, you see setbacks as invitations to approach a challenge from a different angle, breaking barriers and moving forward in ways that change peoples’ lives. In all these ways, you embody the optimism, creativity, compassion, persistence and commitment to serve that are foundational UCLA values. For this, we proudly bestow upon you the UCLA Medal.