When I first heard the news a few weeks ago, I couldn’t quite believe it. Michael Bloomberg, former Mayor of New York City and founder and CEO of Bloomberg, L.P. was going to be the commencement speaker at this year’s Villanova graduation ceremony.
As I wrote in a previous post, I am a big fan of Bloomberg and his policies, and so I looked forward with great anticipation to his speech.
A couple of days before the ceremony, the thought struck me that maybe I might have a chance to actually meet Bloomberg. So I reached out to the individual who coordinates all of the graduation events, and asked if there was going to be a reception for Bloomberg, and if so, if there was a chance I could be invited to the event. I figured that there was no harm in asking, and lo and behold, the woman wrote back to me and informed me that she had added me to the guest list for the reception!
So I arrived at the reception (a few people did ask me what I was doing there), and in a short while, Bloomberg arrived. I waited my turn (patiently), and finally, the big moment arrived, as shown in the photo above. (One interesting side note – at the moment that picture was snapped, the average wealth of the two of us was over $20 billion…)
After introducing myself, he asked a few questions about our Business School’s No. 1 ranking (from Bloomberg Businessweek, coincidentally), which I was happy to answer. I then told him I was disappointed he had not run for President, and he replied that he realized he did not have a chance as an independent candidate.
Our few moments together were soon over, and it was time for me to stop pretending I was a member of the A-list, and time to head back to the hoi polloi, the faculty.
The ceremony began a few minutes later, and it was incredibly hot, over 90 degrees, and we were sitting in the middle of the football field, with the sun beating down on us.
After some introductory remarks and a great speech by our student speaker, it was time for Bloomberg.
Here is the speech, in case you would like to watch it; it is about 26 minutes long.
If you would prefer to read it, here is the transcript.
I realize I am biased, but I thought he hit it out of the park. He made the speech highly personal by including multiple Villanova references. It was obvious him and his team had done their homework.
I also thought he kept his speech politically neutral, not an easy task. However, there were a few references to our current political climate:
“My coming here had nothing to do with Villanova’s undergraduate business school being named number one in the country by the Bloomberg Businessweek magazine. I can assure you: that is not fake news.”
“Personally, I’m tired of politicians running down our country for their own political purposes. No nation offers greater freedoms, or greater opportunities, than the United States of America. Make America great – again? Let’s get real. When you take the full measure of our nation, America has never been greater than it is today. Our economic power has never been stronger. Our standards of living have never been higher. And we remain the only real superpower on the global stage.”
“By following only liberal or conservative news outlets, or by getting trapped in social media’s echo chamber, we become less able to discern fact from spin, truth from lies. And we become less willing to listen to anyone who challenges our beliefs.”
“Patriotism requires all of us to have the courage to do not what is easy, but what is hard. Not what is comfortable, but what is uncomfortable. Not what is safe, but what is right.
“It (patriotism) means having the courage to re-examine our beliefs when data and science contradict them. It means having the courage to stand up to members of your own party when you believe they are wrong – or when their actions put our great American experiment at risk.”
“And it means having the courage to accept the results of an election – even when, and especially when, you deplore the results. Since last November, one of the popular protest slogans has been: ‘Not my president.’ I understand the reasons to protest this president, and I said my piece last summer. So don’t get me wrong: protest is an essential part of patriotism, and I’d encourage all of you to speak up, call your legislators, and get involved in public issues. But at the same time, the fate of our American experiment rests upon the principle that the losing side accepts the legitimacy of the winning side – and works in cooperation with it for the good of the country, rather than fomenting a revolution.”
Bloomberg’s closing words of advice come from Ben Franklin.
“At Independence Hall in 1787, the delegates to the Second Constitutional Convention haggled over everything from the power of states to the status of slaves. Some who did not like the compromises left Philadelphia in protest. Other critics remained, and their opposition threatened to sink the Constitution’s chances for ratification.
“But before the final vote, the delegates heard a speech by an aging Ben Franklin. Franklin acknowledged his own misgivings about the Constitution, but he urged each opponent to ‘doubt a little of his own infallibility.’
“Doubt a little of your own infallibility. Seven words of advice that would be hard to improve upon in any commencement address. Those seven words are credited with helping to assure adoption and ratification of what has proven to be a true work of genius.”
And after Bloomberg’s speech, there was one more highlight.
Our President, the wonderful Father Peter, closed the ceremony by singing an Irish Blessing. Granted, Father Peter used to be chairman of our Theater Department, but really, can your college President do this:
Congratulations, class of 2017!