Back in 2004, Bono, the co-founder of ONE (an NGO that raises awareness of AIDS and poverty in Africa), received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Pennsylvania. Of course, Bono is also the lead singer of U2, and he can command the attention of any large audience. Speaking to Penn’s graduating class of 2004, Bono didn’t give the usual advice — go forth and follow your passion. No, the message was a little different. He urged the graduates to serve their age by betraying it, by “exposing its conceits, it’s foibles, it’s phony moral certitudes … and massive moral blindspots,” Africa being perhaps the most glaring example. Then, his speech wraps up with this, the best lines saved for last.
Whether it’s this or something else, I hope you’ll pick a fight and get in it. Get your boots dirty, get rough, steel your courage…, make one last primal scream, and go. Sing the melody line you hear in your own head. Remember, you don’t owe anybody any explanations. You don’t owe your parents any explanations. You don’t owe your professors any explanations.
You know I used to think the future was solid or fixed, something you inherited like an old building that you move into when the previous generation moves out or gets chased out. But it’s not. The future is not fixed, it’s fluid. You can build your own building, or hut or condo.
My point is that the world is more malleable than you think, and it’s waiting for you to hammer it into shape.… That’s what this degree of yours is, a blunt instrument. So go forth and build something with it. Remember what John Adams said about Ben Franklin, “He does not hesitate at our boldest measures but rather seems to think us too irresolute.” Well this is the time for bold measures and this is the country and you are the generation.
Amen Bono, catch you tonight…
You can find a full transcript of Bono’s speech here.