“You run for food or you run from becoming food. And often you can’t tell which one. In any case, run.”

NVIDIA founder and CEO Jensen Huang today urged graduates of National Taiwan University to run hard to seize the unprecedented opportunities that AI will bring, but to accept the inevitable failures along the way.

“Whatever you pursue,” he told 10,000 graduates of the island’s premier university, “do it with passion and conviction — and remain humble enough to accept the hard lessons that await you.

“Whatever it is, run after it like we did. run. Don’t go,” Huang said, changing his signature black leather jacket into a black graduation robe with the school’s plum blossom emblem accenting the royal blue, white and navy collar.

“Remember: either you run for food; or you run from becoming food. And often you can’t tell which one. In any case, run.”

Huang, who moved from Taiwan when he was young, recognized his parents in the audience and told three stories of initial setbacks and setbacks. He called them a tool that helped shape NVIDIA’s character during its three-decade journey from a three-man gaming graphics startup to a nearly trillion-dollar world leader in artificial intelligence.

“I was … successful — until I started NVIDIA,” he said. “At NVIDIA, I failed — big. Everything is humiliating and shameful. Many almost doomed us.”

The first involved a key early contract the company won to help Sega build a game console. Rapid changes in the industry forced NVIDIA to abandon the contract, almost facing bankruptcy, which Sega’s management helped to avoid.

“Confronting your mistake and humbly asking for help saved NVIDIA,” he said.

The second was the decision in 2007 to embed CUDA in all of the company’s GPUs, allowing them to process data in addition to processing 3D graphics. It was an expensive, much-criticized long-term investment that didn’t pay off for years until the chips began to be used for machine learning.

“Our market capitalization hovered just above a billion dollars,” he recalled. “We suffered from years of poor performance. Our shareholders were skeptical about CUDA and preferred improved profitability.”

The third was the decision in 2010 to enter the promising market of mobile phones, as rich graphic possibilities appeared. However, the market quickly turned into a commodity, and NVIDIA retreated just as quickly, taking the initial heat but opening the door to investments in promising new markets like robotics and self-driving cars.

“Our strategic retreat has paid off,” he said. “By leaving the phone market, we opened our minds to inventing something new.”

Huang spoke to the graduates about the parallels, in terms of limitless prospects, between the world he entered when he graduated four decades ago, on the cusp of the PC revolution, and the wonderful new age of artificial intelligence they are entering today.

“Take some of my knowledge with you on the journey,” he said. Admit mistakes and ask for help; endure pain and suffering to realize your dreams; and make sacrifices to dedicate yourself to a life full of purpose.