More and more we see a trend — high caliber schools are asking celebrities to deliver their big commencement speeches. Conan O’Brien at Dartmouth. Stephen Colbert at Northwestern. Denzel Washington at Penn. Tom Hanks at Yale. The list goes on. Admittedly, the talks can be entertaining. But, it’s still a breath of fresh air when schools actually put an author center stage. Witness Neil Gaiman at The University of the Arts and now Michael Lewis at Princeton.
Lewis graduated from Princeton in 1982, and went on to write many bestsellers – Liar’s Poker, The Blind Side, The Big Short, and Moneyball, a book turned into a Hollywood production by Brad Pitt. You probably know the gist of Moneyball. Major league baseball clubs have long overvalued star players, and undervalued versatile ones who fly beneath the radar. That only changed when scrappier, financially-pressed teams started mining baseball data in intelligent ways. Well, it turns out the same logic applies to the working world. Corporations reward executives outrageously, while undervaluing many contributors in an organization, which leads “successful” people to believe they’re extremely talented rather than generally lucky. So here’s Lewis’ message to Princeton grads. When you get rich or famous, don’t get too carried away with yourself. Your success might have to do with “being there,” or being in the right system, more than anything else.
And now for another reality check for graduates — this one from Wellesley High English teacher David McCullough Jr. (son of the famous historian) who tells grads “You are not special. You are not exceptional.” The empirical evidence makes that clear: