UNL Graduation 2017

Twitter co-founder Evan Williams speaks Saturday during the University of Nebraska-Lincoln commencement ceremony at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

LINCOLN — Twitter co-founder Evan Williams stood before an excited crowd Saturday packed inside Pinnacle Bank Arena.

More than 1,600 miles from his San Francisco house, Williams felt at home.

"I don't feel like a Silicon Valley guy," he said to the 2,005 University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduates crowding the arena floor. "Because at heart, I'm a Cornhusker."

The Clarks native led the undergraduate commencement as he shared his story. Williams spoke proudly about the curiosity instilled in him during childhood on a rural farm and during his brief time at UNL.

The friends and family who crowded arena seats laughed along with Williams as he joked about his plan to have his children begin calling him "doctor" since he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree during the commencement.

Williams' return to the Great Plains was especially meaningful, as the honorary degree makes him the seventh in his immediate family to receive a diploma from the university.

Although he said he had doubts about attending college after high school, he was positive that UNL was the only university he would want to attend.

"I knew I wanted to go out and be part of something big," he said. "I just didn't know what that was."

He attended UNL for a year and a half, but grew impatient and left school, deciding to keep searching for his life's purpose.

He was struck by inspiration in an unlikely place -- the Conestoga Mall in Grand Island. He picked up a copy of Wired Magazine and was moved by an article that encouraged him to think about technology's role in communication.

Suddenly, he knew what he was meant to do -- he needed to create a way for people to easily share ideas.

Williams moved to San Francisco, where he began making contacts in Silicon Valley.

His first creation was Blogger, which provides an easy way for people to create online blogs and has more than 540 million users. He formed the company with friend and UNL alumna Meg Hourihan.

"We didn't invent blogging and we certainly didn't perfect it," he said. "But, driven by our own hunch that others would find it useful, we made it easier to do."

Blogger was sold to Google, where Williams continued to work as Blogger's CEO. He left in 2004, and several years later, Twitter was born.

Williams created Twitter as a way for people to share ideas and knowledge through short, 140-character posts on the social media network. A company report showed there were 320 million members in 2016.

"I thought this was the key to making the world better: free idea exchange and more good ideas eradicating the dumb ideas that bring society down," he said.

While Williams hoped his creation would help spread knowledgeable information, he said the internet is a reflection of humanity, "it is just as good or as bad as we are."

Most recently, Williams launched Medium, an online publishing platform that a CNN report shows receives 30 million pageviews monthly.

He left graduates with several pieces of advice: to follow their hunches and be open to new ideas, to believe in themselves, to work hard and persevere, and to always remain optimistic.

Nebraska, he said, is more than just a fly-over state. It's a land of opportunity.

"You don't have to set out to change the world," Williams said. "Just set out to make something worthwhile easier for other people, and you just might change the world along the way."

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