Sunday, June 11, 2006

Commencement speeches ...

NYTimes has snippets from some of the commencement speeches at American colleges and universities. The list of speakers includes Jeffrey Immelt, Jodie Foster and Wynton Marsalis. Not all of them are great, but this one, delivered by Lance Armstrong at Tufts University, is worth quoting.

In 1998, when I decided to come back, there really were no guarantees. I was a year and a half off the bike. I got back into the sport, and as I mentioned, you have to have a team. Well, I barely found a team, and I started to train and I figured that since I was so sick before — I had just done the Olympic Games in '96 — I figured if I ridded my body of all the cancer, I would come back on the bike and I would win immediately. I had abdomen, lung and brain metastases, and I thought, let's get rid of all that stuff, I'll win everything.

I trained that way and I raced that way, at least I started to race that way. The sad news is that I didn't win. I didn't win at all. I was completely disillusioned. I fell out of love with the sport. I fell out of love with the bike. I didn't like my job. I didn't like Europe. I quit and I came home in the spring of '98. That's a story that nobody tells. I was done with cycling forever.

I proceeded to hang out with my friends, drink a few beers, play golf. I certainly was not living the life of a professional athlete, until, one day, a group of friends sat me down and said: "You can't go out like this. You've got to get back on the bike, at least finish the year. You made a commitment to your team and to a whole population of cancer survivors that you'll try this. You have to at least finish the year." So I did that, and I went and found a remote training camp in Boone, N.C., with a coach and a friend. For eight days in the pouring rain, 40 degrees, I fell back in love with the bike. That was the start of the comeback.

Armstrong's speech is here. His honorary degree citation is here.

Another speech by Wendy Kopp, President and founder of Teach for America, is also worth quoting:

During my senior fall, I helped organize a conference about education reform, where one of the topics was the shortage of qualified teachers in urban and rural communities. It was at that conference that I thought of an idea: why doesn't our country have a national teacher corps that recruits us to teach in low-income communities the same way we're being recruited to work on Wall Street? From that moment, I was possessed by this idea. I thought it would make a huge difference in kids' lives ... and that ultimately it could change the very consciousness of our country, by influencing the thinking and career paths of a generation of leaders. So I did the obvious thing. I wrote a very long and very passionate letter to the president of the United States suggesting he start this corps. That didn't get very far — I received a job rejection letter in response. So in my undergraduate senior thesis, I declared that I would try to create such a corps myself, as a nonprofit organization. When my thesis adviser looked at my budget, which showed that to recruit 500 new teachers into this corps during the first year would cost $2.5 million, he asked me if I knew how hard it was to raise $2,500, let alone $2.5 million.

Kopp's speech is here.


  1. Anonymous said...

    During my days in scenic University of Delaware,
    Steve Forbes, s/o Malcolm Forbes gave a
    commencement address. If I remember right,
    he advised the students that the easiest way
    of doing well in life (getting rich?) is to choose
    your parents carefully. I have an extension to this:
    atleast choose your in-laws carefully.

  2. Abi said...

    Anant: Good one! Thanks.