Last weekend my wife and I attended the graduation of our youngest daughter Allie at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. From 400 miles away you may have felt of bit of wind or heard a murmur that was our sigh of relief. The third and last offspring is finished and moving on. Although the sky was not that Carolina blue the university is so proud of, the temperature was comfortable. As we sat and watched the graduates, clad in Tar Heel blue gowns, streaming down to their seats from the upper level of the football stadium, we had the impression there was a waterfall flowing into and filling up the far end of the bleachers.
It was a very nice ceremony. Mainly, my wife says, “Because they got all that blah-blah academic stuff out of the way fast.” It’s true too. The big wigs were acknowledged. The various departments introduced themselves. They awarded a handful of honorary degrees. The last one went to Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City. He was then introduced as the commencement speaker.
Whoever wrote his speech knew his stuff. He hit all the right UNC buttons from chanting the cheers to naming the landmarks to describing the secret senior traditions. He took some political shots too. Stuff that only a guy with a net worth of $16 billion who used to be a Democrat and then was a Republican before running for mayor as an Independent can get away with.
Having made his fortune in the information business, Bloomberg told graduates they each had one of the most important pieces of technology ever created in their pockets. He referred to the smart phone as “arguably the greatest piece of technology the world has ever seen.” Not something I always agree with when my battery runs out because I have forgotten to plug the damn thing in. “It democratizes technology,” he said. Thanks to the smart phone “knowledge is being shared globally as quickly as it is being discovered. As a result the speed of innovation is moving at a breathtaking pace.”
Of course the heart of his speech was delivered in terms that students at a basketball school like North Carolina would understand. He summed up his pieces of advice in seven short sentences: “Team work is everything. Assist others. Risks are necessary. Hustle always. Elbows occasionally have to be used. Education is a lifelong journey. Love what you do.”
And he pointed out the first letters of each taken together spell out TAR HEEL. As a final point, Bloomberg acknowledged that there might some tough times ahead when doubt overtakes the graduates. “Remember,” he told them, “not only did North Carolina win a national championship during your time here, but in your senior year Duke lost in the first round of the NCCA tournament to a 15th seed.”
There was great applause. Not any of it was bad advice and it was delivered in a way that might be remembered for a while. After that the men’s vocal group sang James Taylor’s “In my Mind I’m going to Carolina.” Tears were wiped. Tassels were turned. Well-deserved cheers rang out. And mortar boards flew into the air.
Congratulations to Allie and the graduates of the Class of 2012. You make us proud.