I’m very happy to receive this honor, not least because I don’t remember my own graduation at all, which was in 1977. Seems like another era – in many ways it was. But I think I have to take away from it and offer to you, graduates of 2010, the same lesson it took me a long time to learn, which is: slow down.
We’ve heard a lot about the big things from Professor Sachs and Ms. Spencer, the big things we can do, but remember some of the smaller ones too. And I was reminded of that when I came back to the campus. I arrived in the Des Moines airport and there wasn’t a driver there to meet me. So I fumed for a while and then I got in a taxi, and I spent the first ten minutes on my Blackberry and finally talked to him. And it turns out he’s from Vietnam where he’d fought in the army for seven years, been a prisoner of war for five years, and a sponsor had brought him to Des Moines. And if I’d stayed in my Blackberry, which I was inclined to do, I wouldn’t have learned that.
Because I’m still on New York time, I came out a little early today, about seven o’clock, just to see what all this would look like, because yesterday you’ll recall there were no chairs, there was this stand but not much else. All these chairs were perfectly aligned. There were about fifty people here who had set them up. They were winching back the cords. Some of you sitting on the inner corner rows will see the residue of the chalk they used to line them up perfectly. There were people with buckets and cloths who were washing down every single chair here. There were guys wiring the sound back here, and making sure there were microphones on the corners there. And people bringing the flowers out, I saw them take them out of the little truck.
I didn’t pay attention to any of this in 1977 when I was 21 years old, because everything was about me. I know you all call it “living inside the bubble,” that’s what Steve Andrews tells me. We called it – we looked at what was beyond this, and we called it the “real world” (long before it became an MTV show) and the real world was the place we knew we were supposed to enter, that we were hostile toward, a little condescending about, but mainly fearful of. The one bit of advice I have for you all is if you slow down a little bit, look around you a little more closely, you’ll get more integrated into that world. And then you’ll actually become, not just the scholars you are, but more like the folks who were here this morning, some fifty of them I counted, who created all of this. And that’s what you want to become now: the people who don’t just live in an upholstered world that someone’s built for you, but a world that you helped create yourselves. Thanks so much. Congratulations to you all.