Bono, the lead singer for the rock group U2 gave the May 2004 commencement address at the U. of Pennsylvania–my alma mater. No offense to Ellen Goodman, the journalist from the Boston Globe who sent me off into the world with what I think was a decent graduation speech–I wish I had graduated this year.
Aside from being a rock star, Bono is the most effective celebrity activist of our time. Trading on his stardom, he is working to end poverty and AIDS in Africa–using the tool of forgiveness of Third World debt by international financial bodies and western governments.
He is also one of the best speakers of our time. He gave the speeches inducting Bob Marley and Bruce Springsteen into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the introduction speech for Frank Sinatra’s Lifetime Achievement award at the Grammy’s. All of these speeches are incredible–funny, touching and uplifting.
Bono is my age and his speech resonated with me on many levels:
“I was 17 when I first saw The Clash, and it just sounded like revolution. The Clash were like, ‘This is a public service announcement–with guitars.’ I was the kid in the crowd who took it at face value. Later I learned that a lot of the rebels were in it for the T-shirt. They’d wear the boots but they wouldn’t march. They’d smash bottles on their heads but they wouldn’t go to something more painful like a town hall meeting. By the way I felt like that myself until recently.”
“I didn’t expect change to come so slow, so agonizingly slow. I didn’t realize that the biggest obstacle to political and social progress wasn’t the Free Masons, or the Establishment, or the boot heal of whatever you consider ‘the Man’ to be, it was something much more subtle. As the Provost just referred to, a combination of our own indifference and the Kafkaesque labyrinth of ‘no’s you encounter as people vanish down the corridors of bureaucracy.”
“There’s a truly great Irish poet his name is Brendan Kennelly, and he has this epic poem called the Book of Judas, and there’s a line in that poem that never leaves my mind, it says: “If you want to serve the age, betray it.” What does that mean to betray the age? Well to me betraying the age means exposing its conceits, it’s foibles; it’s phony moral certitudes. It means telling the secrets of the age and facing harsher truths.”
I could quote the whole speech–go back to the top and hit the link for the whole thing. I’ve got to go blast my copy of Rattle & Hum!