Graduation Speech

7 09 2005

Is this a whole genre of inspirational writing (speaking?).

For a long time my favourite one used to be HindsightGuy Kawasaki‘s speech at Palo Alto High School in 1995.

Then there were others. Steve Jobs’ at stanford this summer – Stay hungry, Stay foolish. Which was kind of interesting. He talks about, how college is useless (I can only imagine the faces of all those parents, who had paid tens of thousands and were sitting in the hot sun, listening to this.)

One of the more shocking ones – Muhammad Ali’s speech at MIT.

“Me, We”

2 words. period.

Here is another one I came across last week. The Johns Hopkins University commencement this summer. The talk by the President William R. Brody. If you haven’t heard/read this one and like commencement speeches. ;) Here is the complete text.

And, here is small snippet for the lazy people! ;)

“I’d like to close with one last story that I think you will especially understand, because today you are receiving a degree from what you know firsthand is a very competitive school. All of you, I am sure, have along the way felt pressure from your peers and perhaps from your parents to get good grades and become accomplished, so you can go on to even greater achievements later in life.

Today, I want to turn those expectations on their heads. Today, I want to encourage you to do well by doing good. The trick is not to fall into the trap of thinking that the way you do well is to do so at the expense of others. It’s not a zero-sum game. And I’d just like to relate this story to make my point.

There is another trustee of Johns Hopkins who I’d like to tell you about. His name is Sandy Greenberg. In his youth, Sandy was a very good student, but he came from a poor family. And so he went to Columbia University on a scholarship, and there he met his roommate, who also was receiving financial aid.

Now while he was a sophomore at Columbia University, he contracted an eye disease that eventually proved to be glaucoma. But the trouble was, it wasn’t detected early enough, and as a result he became legally blind, while still a student at Columbia. I ask you all to imagine for a moment having been sighted all your life, and then all of a sudden being faced, in a very competitive school, with losing so much sight you could no longer read. This is what happened to our trustee, Sandy Greenberg.

But something else happened to Sandy that may surprise you. Sandy said that when he lost his sight, his roommate began to read his textbooks to him, every night.

So I’m going to put you in that position, in a competitive school like Columbia, or Johns Hopkins. If your roommate had a serious disability, would you take the time to read textbooks to him every night, knowing the more you spend time reading textbooks to your roommate, perhaps the less well you might do with your other activities? That’s not as easy a question as it first appears.

But luckily for Sandy, our trustee, his roommate did. And as a result, Sandy went on to graduate with honors. He got a Fulbright Scholarship, and he went off to study at Oxford. He was still quite poor, but he said he had managed to save about five hundred dollars as he went along.

His roommate, meanwhile, also went on to graduate school. One day, Sandy got a call from him at Oxford. And his former roommate said, “Sandy I’m really unhappy. I really don’t like being in graduate school, and I don’t want to do this.”

So Sandy asked, “Well what do you want to do?”

And his roommate told him, “Sandy, I really love to sing. I have a high school friend who plays the guitar. And we would really like to try our hand in the music business. But we need to make a promo record, and in order to do that I need $500.”

So Sandy Greenberg told me he took all his life savings and sent it to his roommate. He told me, “You know, what else could I do? He made my life; I needed to help make his life.” So, I hope you’ll remember the power of doing well by doing good. Each of you, in your own lives, will be faced with challenges, with roadblocks, with problems that you didn’t anticipate or expect. How you are able to deal with adversity will be influenced, to no small extent, by how you deal with others along the way. What you get will depend a lot on what you give. And that’s the end of the story of doing well, by doing good.

Ah! I almost forgot. You probably are wanting to know who Sandy’s roommate was. I think you’ve heard of him. Sandy’s roommate was a fellow by the name of Art Garfunkel, and he teamed up with another musician by the name of Paul Simon. That $500 helped them cut a record that eventually became “The Sounds of Silence.” Recently, we had the pleasure of going to Sandy’s daughter’s wedding, and it was Art Garfunkel who sang as Sandy walked his daughter down the aisle.”

– President William S. Brody, Johns Hopkins University, Commencement 2005.

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