Saturday, November 05, 2011

R.I.P Andy Rooney

Andy Rooney has passed away. He gave the best graduation commencement speech I have ever heard. It was at George Washington in May 2005 (my brother Brett was a member of the buff and blue at GW). The speech is below. Enjoy.

Andy Rooney
Doctor of Public Service

Commencement on the Ellipse Remarks
(as delivered)
May 22, 2005

Would it be wrong if my address was shorter than my introduction? (Laughter)

I'm used to speaking to ten million people, but I'm not used to being able to look at all of them when I'm talking.

Several people have asked if I enjoy speaking at a graduation and I don't think they always believe me when I say I do. I love it. I've been looking forward to being here at George Washington University for several weeks now. I think we're all after what little bit of immortality we can get for ourselves and, even if I'm not very good today, every young person graduating will remember me for the rest of his or her life. You'll be saying: Remember what's his name on your graduation. (Laughter)

But that's about as close to being immortal as I'll get. Then of course, for most of my ordinary days and when I'm on television I'm talking to people who haven't read a book or a decent newspaper ever, and here I have the privilege of being with my daughter and my granddaughter and hundreds of intelligent young people and their families and friends of theirs on one of the great days of their lives. How could I be anything but happy to be here? I even get to talk to young people sitting down there in front of me and they can't talk back to me.

I know many of you graduating probably question how much an old guy like me really knows about you. What you have to keep in mind about people my age in relation to people your age is we have been your age. We have been our own age, too. So we know about both ages. You on the other hand have only been your age, so we know a lot more about ages than you do. And that's why I'm up here speaking to you instead of sitting down there having one of – listening to one of you speak to me. (Laughter)

If you're smart at all you should be nervous about facing the world you're entering. If you're not nervous you're not very smart, because there's plenty to be nervous about. First, you're going to have to find a job, then you're going to have to learn how to do it. I don't know whether you're aware of this or not. On a big day like this, graduating, you probably think you've got everything. But it's very likely that nothing you learned in college is going to help at your job. (Laughter)

What you learned at George Washington can make your life more interesting and pleasant. But chances are it won't help you in making a living. The good thing about an education is simply having one. You don't have to do anything with it.

In spite of all the problems you face, it should be encouraging for you to hear that I wish I had the life ahead of me that you have ahead of you. If people my age hate to leave it after having experienced almost everything, it's evidence that life can be pretty good.

Now that you're graduating, though, you can't put it off any longer. You have to decide what to do. To begin with, of course, you'll probably have to take any job you can get. But I've found that people usually get where they're going in life. Sometimes that's good and sometimes it's bad. But there's something inevitable about the course of our lives that's mysteriously directed by who we are, what we're like, and the way we do both the big and the little things every day.

You may have to take a menial job in the field you choose, but you'll work yourself up if you're any good at it. Do the menial job as though it was important.

What you're going to do with your life is what I want to talk about today. The jobs available for you to do are different from what's been available for young people to do five, 10, 50, or 150 years ago. There must be thousands of potentially famous people right now who are living their lives anonymously because what they're capable of being famous doing just doesn't need to be done right now, the time they're living.

Just an example of how much the times influence what a person does with his or her life, if George Washington were alive today would he have led the troops into Baghdad? Of course not. Washington wouldn't even have been called "Father of His County" because the country is more than 200 years old.

Would your college be named after George Washington? I don't think so. Today the George Washington University might be called " Bush U." (Laughter)

Is there an Alexander Graham Bell among you? Too bad; there are no openings there; the telephone has already been invented.

All any of this means is each of you has to look carefully at where you are in relation to what needs to be done in the world before you decide what you want to do. If you have a choice after college between getting a job you like and getting a job that pays a lot of money, take the job you like. Ideally, of course, you'll get a job you like that pays a lot of money.

I could tell you one thing for sure, though. There's no shortage of things that need to be done in the world. On the other hand, there is a shortage of capable people to do those jobs, and that works to your advantage if you're capable at all. To begin with, we're short of technicians, scientists, mathematicians, and people who really know how to make things. The service industry is bigger than the manufacturing segment, and there's something wrong with that. It's like a restaurant that has good waiters, but no one in the kitchen who knows how to cook. We need chefs more than we need waiters.

We need mechanics; we don't need car salesmen. We need doctors more than we need health insurance plans. We're short of good politicians. We need good men and women to lead us. I hope some of you will go into politics. Politicians have always had a bad reputation. We love to laugh and poke fun at them, but they are important to what we're all doing.

I wouldn't be able to do what they do. Can you imagine having the self-confidence to think that you're smart enough to be president of the United States? Politicians are optimistic about what they can accomplish, though, and they're optimistic about the human race. They think people can be helped and, even better, they think people are worth helping. I hope some of you are presumptuous enough to become politicians because you think you can help. (Siren on the street)

Rooney: Are they coming to get somebody? (Laughter)

Our economic system could use some help, if there are any economists among you. Capitalism has gone berserk. It isn't working. There are too many rich people and too many poor people. You don't have to be a communist to think that.

Corporations whose boards of directors used to meet to discuss ways to improve their product now meet to talk about ways to make it cheaper. They also meet to decide how many workers to fire so they can vote themselves million dollar bonuses.

The key word in big business today is "takeover." It means taking over a company built on someone else's brains and labor for another's profit. No product ever got better when a big company took over a smaller one.

The evolution of too many business enterprises in America these days is away from quality. We're selling things better than we're making them. When they break, no one knows how to fix them. The thing we're making best is money.

I had a problem with the windshield wipers on my car last Saturday. I went to the dealer from whom I bought it. The salesmen were all there, ready to sell me a new car, but the service department was closed Saturdays. Couldn't get my windshield wiper fixed. Now, if they'll sell me a car on weekends, why the hell won't they fix one for me?

We're great at packaging things. Manufacturers often spend more on the box something comes in than they spend making the product. They spend more on advertising it than on making it or on the box.

Whatever you do, I hope you set out to make something other than money. There's a lot to be done in education. Maybe you could teach. I hope so. Our schools are for the most part terrible. The children of every major industrial country in the world are better educated than our own. The United States is spending $400 billion a year on weapons and $53 billion a year on education. (Applause)

In spite of that, some of the happiest and most satisfied people I've ever met are teachers.

I hope some of you go into the news business. It may sound self-serving for me to say, but the most honest people I've ever known are journalists, also the most interesting. The public doesn't have a high regard for news or the people who give it to them because the public wants good news and what journalists usually give them is bad.

The trouble is by its very nature news is negative. It's always a change from the status quo, an aberration in the course of events, and any change is usually bad. So it's the bad news that's in the newspaper or on television and people don't like that. They blame the messenger. We don't run pictures and report on the Mississippi River on days that it does not overflow its banks and drown people.

When I got out of college, I spent the next four years in the Army during World War II. I hope none of you have to do anything like that. War is an old-fashioned idea that we have got to get over. The United States can attack little countries like Iraq with impunity, but if we get into a war with China or India or the bigger countries it could be the end of civilization.

Civilizations have ended before, you know. It's not impossible. It seems so to us, but it is not impossible, and I worry about the future of the world. I worry about my grandchild and my grandchildren's grandchildren.

I know some of you would like to write for a living. I know for a fact that one of you does. There are great opportunities for anyone who can write because we're short of good writing in movies and television. There are a hundred producers, editors, directors, publishers, and advertising executives waiting for one writer to put something down on paper so they can do their thing with it. Actors are a dime a dozen. There are 10,000 actors waiting for every writer to write something.

The computer has been an amazing tool for the exchange of information, but the writing that goes into computers has not been up to the standard of the machines' technical excellence. This is a turn for the worse because of how important good writing is in our society. If you write it down it's harder to fake it, it's harder to avoid saying what you really mean, than it is when you're speaking.

Anyone who knows what he's doing ought to be able to put it down I words. Anyone who knows what he thinks should be able to write it out. If you can't write down the idea you have, the chances are you don't have an idea. In conversation people keep saying "You know what I mean." I always feel like saying: No, damn it, I don't know what you mean; would you put it down on paper.

But there's a wide open field for writers and I hope some of you do it.

I hope some of you get into the Foreign Service. We've got to do a better job getting along with other - (Cheers.)

We've got to do a better job getting along with other countries. We're going to have to work with some international organization. It may not be the UN. But the United States has got to be willing to surrender some of our sovereignty to an international body. We cannot do it all ourselves. We shouldn't try to do it all ourselves.

If we weren't trying to police the whole world, we could spend the billions we'd save not making weapons on better schools, better books, better libraries, more museums. With half of our military budget, we could fix our bridges, repair our roads, and build new ones. We could fix our railroad system, have better mail delivery, build better airports, pay our teachers higher salaries, and enjoy more of all the good things the world has to offer.

No matter what you end up doing, no matter how technical your job may be, I hope you don't lose track of how satisfying physical labor is or forget that you can sweat and still use your brains. If I could influence any of you at all with what I'm saying today – and I realize that a speech like this will probably have no effect whatsoever on any of you, but I know the direction I'd send you if I could – I'd try to get you to face what's good about life and what's bad about life with intelligence, knowledge, and reason.

I wish you'd face the unknown and try to get to know it without trying to explain the inexplicable with manmade answers and superstitious nonsense. I wish you could look directly at the world and its problems and at your own life in relation to those problems and try to solve them logically with your brains.

I wish all of you would try to form your opinions about politics, the economy, even religion, by looking coldly and clearly at the evidence. Don't decide you're a Republican for life or a Democrat, or even an Episcopalian, a Catholic, a Jew, a Muslim or a Buddhist, without considering the facts in light of the education you've had. (Applause)

The ability people have, even very smart people, to fool themselves and turn their backs on what their brains tell them is depressing to me. Not facing the facts doesn't make them bad people, of course. I think it usually comes from some kind of modesty. They feel that if everything they are and if everything they're going to become depends on their own ability, they're afraid they're in trouble. They don't think they're good enough to do it right.

If, on the other hand, they believe that success depends on luck, on hoping, on praying, on getting help from the government, or maybe winning the lottery, then they're not so worried. They feel that their destiny is in better hands than their own.

Well, I don't think it is, and I hope you can be persuaded that your future is in your own hands, not in anyone else's. That's a big responsibility you face, and that's why we all take this day, your graduation day, so seriously.

It's a tradition for commencement speeches to start out funny and end up sad, so I have a sad thought to end with. It's what happens to friends. You'll find long before you reach my age you will have made more friends than you have time to keep. I had 50 good friends when I was at Colgate. Seven were killed in World War II; but the others over the years, I kept in touch with about 10. I didn't lose touch with the rest of them because we no longer liked each other. We lost touch because there isn't time enough in life to be friends with everyone you feel friendly towards. Our lives diverged.

That's the big reason this is a sweet and sour day for you. It's sweet because you've gained a major objective in your life. It's sad because as I speak you're seeing many of your friends for the last time.

I'd finish by saying good luck, but, as I've indicated, it's a mistake to put much faith in luck. Wishing is okay and I wish you as good a life as I'm having.

Thank you. (Applause)

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