Bono Tells Graduates “Pick a Fight, Get in It” (2004)

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.

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Comments (4)
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  • Anonymous says:

    How about the fight to get Bono to pay his tax­es?

  • Glenn Condell says:

    Yeah, or the fight to get his sov­er­eign wealth fund to dis­in­vest from video game mak­ers who pro­duce voilent war porn-style prod­ucts, one of which explic­it­ly envi­sions a US attack on Venezuela. ‘mas­sive moral blindspots’ indeed. 

  • Kevin says:

    Pay your tax­es Bono!!!

  • Wendy says:

    Bono is giv­ing every­one good advice indeed. You real­ly have to strike while the iron is hot and real­ize that you can cre­ate your life to be any way you want it to be. Don’t let life just “hap­pen” to you. You have to take con­trol of it and make it your own.

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