Michael Bloomberg Delivers Commencement Speech and Father Peter Sings – Just Another Day at Villanova

When I first heard the news a few weeks ago, I couldn’t quite believe it. Michael Bloomberg, former Mayor of New York City and founder and CEO of Bloomberg, L.P. was going to be the commencement speaker at this year’s Villanova graduation ceremony.

As I wrote in a previous post, I am a big fan of Bloomberg and his policies, and so I looked forward with great anticipation to his speech.

A couple of days before the ceremony, the thought struck me that maybe I might have a chance to actually meet Bloomberg. So I reached out to the individual who coordinates all of the graduation events, and asked if there was going to be a reception for Bloomberg, and if so, if there was a chance I could be invited to the event. I figured that there was no harm in asking, and lo and behold, the woman wrote back to me and informed me that she had added me to the guest list for the reception!

So I arrived at the reception (a few people did ask me what I was doing there), and in a short while, Bloomberg arrived. I waited my turn (patiently), and finally, the big moment arrived, as shown in the photo above. (One interesting side note – at the moment that picture was snapped, the average wealth of the two of us was over $20 billion…)

After introducing myself, he asked a few questions about our Business School’s No. 1 ranking (from Bloomberg Businessweek, coincidentally), which I was happy to answer. I then told him I was disappointed he had not run for President, and he replied that he realized he did not have a chance as an independent candidate.

Our few moments together were soon over, and it was time for me to stop pretending I was a member of the A-list, and time to head back to the hoi polloi, the faculty.

The ceremony began a few minutes later, and it was incredibly hot, over 90 degrees, and we were sitting in the middle of the football field, with the sun beating down on us.

After some introductory remarks and a great speech by our student speaker, it was time for Bloomberg.

Here is the speech, in case you would like to watch it; it is about 26 minutes long.

If you would prefer to read it, here is the transcript.

I realize I am biased, but I thought he hit it out of the park. He made the speech highly personal by including multiple Villanova references. It was obvious him and his team had done their homework.

I also thought he kept his speech politically neutral, not an easy task. However, there were a few references to our current political climate:

My coming here had nothing to do with Villanova’s undergraduate business school being named number one in the country by the Bloomberg Businessweek magazine. I can assure you: that is not fake news.”

“Personally, I’m tired of politicians running down our country for their own political purposes. No nation offers greater freedoms, or greater opportunities, than the United States of America. Make America great – again? Let’s get real. When you take the full measure of our nation, America has never been greater than it is today. Our economic power has never been stronger. Our standards of living have never been higher. And we remain the only real superpower on the global stage.”

“By following only liberal or conservative news outlets, or by getting trapped in social media’s echo chamber, we become less able to discern fact from spin, truth from lies. And we become less willing to listen to anyone who challenges our beliefs.”

“Patriotism requires all of us to have the courage to do not what is easy, but what is hard. Not what is comfortable, but what is uncomfortable. Not what is safe, but what is right.

“It (patriotism) means having the courage to re-examine our beliefs when data and science contradict them. It means having the courage to stand up to members of your own party when you believe they are wrong – or when their actions put our great American experiment at risk.”

“And it means having the courage to accept the results of an election – even when, and especially when, you deplore the results. Since last November, one of the popular protest slogans has been: ‘Not my president.’ I understand the reasons to protest this president, and I said my piece last summer. So don’t get me wrong: protest is an essential part of patriotism, and I’d encourage all of you to speak up, call your legislators, and get involved in public issues. But at the same time, the fate of our American experiment rests upon the principle that the losing side accepts the legitimacy of the winning side – and works in cooperation with it for the good of the country, rather than fomenting a revolution.”

Bloomberg’s closing words of advice come from Ben Franklin.

“At Independence Hall in 1787, the delegates to the Second Constitutional Convention haggled over everything from the power of states to the status of slaves. Some who did not like the compromises left Philadelphia in protest. Other critics remained, and their opposition threatened to sink the Constitution’s chances for ratification.

“But before the final vote, the delegates heard a speech by an aging Ben Franklin. Franklin acknowledged his own misgivings about the Constitution, but he urged each opponent to ‘doubt a little of his own infallibility.’

Doubt a little of your own infallibility. Seven words of advice that would be hard to improve upon in any commencement address. Those seven words are credited with helping to assure adoption and ratification of what has proven to be a true work of genius.”

And after Bloomberg’s speech, there was one more highlight.

Our President, the wonderful Father Peter, closed the ceremony by singing an Irish Blessing. Granted, Father Peter used to be chairman of our Theater Department, but really, can your college President do this:

Congratulations, class of 2017!

Who Counsels the Counselors?

I guess the allure of opiods must be incredibly powerful, even for those who have committed to helping others overcome the addiction.

Such is the case of two counselors at a halfway house for recovering addicts in Chester County, a suburb of Philadelphia. The two died this past Sunday of drug overdoses. Police found used needles and heroin baggies near the bodies in the bedrooms. Both people tested positive for heroin and fentanyl, according to preliminary toxicology tests. One counselor was 33, the other was found dead on what would have been his 25th birthday.

“If anybody is wondering how bad the opioid epidemic has become, this case is a frightening example,” Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan said in a statement. “The staff members in charge of supervising recovering addicts succumbed to their own addiction and died of opioid overdoses.”

Sadly, these overdoses aren’t the first reported deaths of drug counselors trying to help others beat their addiction. Just last week, an advocate for safe injection sites for heroin addicts in Philadelphia and the co-founder of a Bucks County (another Philadelphia suburb) drug treatment program both died from overdoses.

I can’t imagine being addicted to something so badly that even when you think you have beaten it, and are helping others to do the same, there is still the possibility of being drawn back in. And I am sure these counselors all knew the dangers associated with opioid use, yet they still opted to take the drug.

One other item I hd trouble relating to is an editor’s note at the end of the story:

An earlier version of this story identified the baggies of heroin found near the bodies by symbols on the bags. At the request of Drug Enforcement Administration officials, who say addicts will actively seek out heroin that’s reportedly killed others, the photos and identifications have been removed.

Addicts will actively seek out heroin that’s reportedly killed others? I’m not sure if this is because of the allure of a potentially incredible high, or a sign that the addict has given up on life.

I am not sure what the answer might be to the opioid epidemic, but I would think that some combination of providing both education and hope to those most susceptible could do wonders.

There also seems to be a need for a strong support system that includes not only former addicts, but also people who have not suffered from a drug addiction. With such a system, counselors would then have someone to turn to in their moment of need, and perhaps we could avoid the deaths noted above.

Yes! We Have Bananas, Bananas at Amazon Today!

The Wall Street Journal’s A-Hed strikes gold (or should I sat yellow) again today, with a story about Amazon’s Community Banana Stand.

In late 2015, Amazon opened its first Community Banana Stand near its Seattle headquarters. The Stand was brainchild of CEO and founder Jeff Bezos, who believed that Amazon should offer everyone near its headquarters—not just employees—healthy, eco-friendly snacks as a public service. It has since expanded to two stands on its corporate campus, which sprawls across several blocks in downtown Seattle, and says it has given out more than 1.7 million free bananas.

The story immediately made me think of the classic Harry Chapin song, “30,000 Pounds of Bananas”, and the line from that song, “Yes, We Have No Bananas, Bananas in Scranton, PA”

That song was the only reference I knew to the line “Yes, We Have No Bananas”, and so I assumed it was a line Harry made up as part of the song. (By the way, on average, a pound of bananas consists of about three bananas, so Amazon has given away almost 600,000 pounds of bananas, the equivalent of 20 trucks full of bananas.)

Well as part of my hours long research in putting together today’s post, I found out that the line actually comes from a novelty song written by Frank Silver and Irving Cohn from the 1922 Broadway revue Make It Snappy. Sung by Eddie Cantor in the revue, the song became a major hit in 1923 (placing No. 1 for five weeks) when it was recorded by Billy Jones, Arthur Hall, Irving Kaufman, and others.

Here is the Billy Jones version:

and the phrase was also a line in a Simpson’s episode:

Some other fun facts about bananas:

  • bananas were officially introduced to the U.S. public at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, where each banana was wrapped in foil and sold for 10 cents
  • they are the world’s most popular fruit, with 105 million tons produced each year
  • they are the most popular fruit in the U.S., with the average person eating 25 pounds of bananas per year
  • I eat about 5-6 bananas a day, but my son Joey eats about 30 bananas a day
  • a bunch of bananas, about 10-20, is known as a hand, and a single banana is known as a finger
  • bananas are often referred to as the “world’s most perfect food” because of the many nutritional benefits

So cheers to Amazon for offering a free healthy snack to the residents of Seattle.

And maybe my son should move there, think of all the money he’d save…

Chinese Toddler Is an Eating Machine

My favorite part of the Wall Street Journal is the A-Hed, the story that appears every day in the bottom center of the front page. Ranging from the silly to the serious, and from the quirky to the downright bizarre, the A-Hed gives free rein to the reporters’ imagination.

Everyone who works at the Journal is free to write an A-Hed if they think they have found the right kind of story. From what I’ve heard, for a journalist, it’s the most prized piece of real estate in the paper.

Originally developed in 1941 to give harried business readers a diversion from the day’s business and economic news, the A-Hed has evolved into a symbol of American feature writing, judged by readers as their favorite part of the paper. It is certainly my favorite part of the paper, and has been a source for many of my blog posts, including today’s post.

Today’s A-Hed was about Xiaoman, a Chinese toddler who has become an internet sensation in China because of her eating habits.

I’ve written before about Mukbang, a social eating craze in South Korea in which people pay to watch online videos of other people eating. Well apparently watching such videos is big in China as well.

An eating channel launched in China last year by Meipai, an app that hosts Xiaoman’s videos, has received more than 12 billion views. A video posted last month of Xiaoman biting off tender morsels of yellow durian, an Asian fruit with a pungent smell that makes many people recoil, has piled up more than 2.8 million views.

Xiaoman eats methodically with a spoon and fork, sometimes her fingers, and sometimes she just picks up her bowl and the food slides into her mouth. She leaves nothing behind.

As China’s fascination with Xiaoman has grown, so have her opportunities. She recently had a starring role in an online advertisement in China for Pampers diapers, made by U.S. company Procter & Gamble Co. , and has been a guest on popular Chinese variety-TV shows.

Her mom started posting the eating videos a year ago to simply document her daughter’s life and says she isn’t seeking to profit from her toddler daughter’s fame. Besides, the way online fame comes and goes, “I don’t think she’s going to be famous for long,” the mom says.

As I noted in my post about Mukbang, I don’t get the fascination with these eating videos. Yes, it was fun to watch the video of Xiaoman, but that probably had more to do with the fact that she is a cute kid, than with the fact that she is eating. One such video is enough for me.

But speaking of cute kid videos, here’s a classic from Ellen:

I wish Xiaoman and her family the best, but I’d much rather watch videos of kid inventors any time.

Now there’s an A-Hed story.


I Could Look at This All Day

I had the chance to visit an old friend from college at his house “down the shore” this weekend.

Shortly after I arrived we met another college friend and his wife for an early dinner filled with good food and lots of laughs. After a couple of hours it was time to go our separate ways, and we headed back to my friend’s spectacular beach house.

Here’s the view from his third floor deck:


We sat out on the deck and spent the evening just chatting about our families, jobs, and life. It’s the kind of night I’ve learned to enjoy much more than attending a crowded event or a large, noisy party, where I often take full advantage of the Irish good-bye.

As the evening went on, it began to get a bit chilly outside, and we soon called it a night.

When I woke up this morning, I got to do one of my favorite things – watch the sunrise over the ocean. Today’s sunrise was beautiful, as shown by the photo at the top of the post; it’s hard to think of a better way to start your day.

I took a short stroll along the beach, which as far as I could see, I had completely to myself. I’m sure starting next week that will be a rare opportunity.

Later that morning we went to church, grabbed some breakfast, and then it was time to say our (non-Irish) goodbyes.

On the way home I stopped at another friend’s house, which was just a few minutes away. He was not there, but his family was, and I had the chance to catch up with his wife and family.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and it was time to head home.

All in all, it was less than 24 hours “down the shore”, but what a wonderful, rejuvenating 24 hours it was.

I feel blessed and grateful to have such good friends and I always welcome the opportunity to spend time with them, since I know there will be lots of retelling of the glory days and lots of laughs.

And what a bonus that some of them have houses down the shore…

The First Follower Is What Transforms a Lone Nut into a Leader

I just finished reading a great book today, How Google Works.

One part of the book talks about innovation, and notes that while most organizations spend a lot of time encouraging people to be innovators, little time, if any, is spent on identifying followers, and the critical role they play in helping new ideas get momentum.

As an example of this concept in action, the authors use a TED talk by Derek Sivers, “How To Start a Movement”. The video shows one guy dancing all by himself at an outdoor concert, but before long, a second person joins in.

Here’s the three-minute video, and you’ll see where the title for this blog came from:

Sivers stresses that if you really want to start a movement, being that first follower is a key role, perhaps even more important than being the leader. It may also be more challenging to be that first follower. Google uses the same analogy when discussing “the primordial ooze of innovation, noting the importance of both the innovator, and the early followers.

I’ve written about followership previously, and noted that perhaps what organizations really need, besides leaders and followers, is “doers”.

I think the authors of How Google Works would agree, since they note several times throughout the book the value it places on having its people getting things done, or as they call it at Google, “ship and iterate”.

So while most of us will rarely come up with something truly creative, most of us likely have the ability to spot something that has the potential to be truly innovative.

The hard part is whether or not you are you are going to take the risk of becoming an early follower and helping that lone nut to become a leader/innovator.

Phi Beta Kappa – A Celebration of the Liberal Arts and Sciences

Today I went to the ceremony for the latest group of students to be inducted into Beta Alpha Psi, the national honor society for liberal arts and sciences majors.

Here’s a brief description of Phi Beta Kappa, from Villanova’s web site:

Phi Beta Kappa was founded at the College of William and Mary in 1776. Since that time, its rigorous and comprehensive standards have made election to it a premier sign of excellence. The Sigma of Pennsylvania Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa was created at the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Villanova in April 1986.

The Phi Beta Kappa standards reflect the highest ideals of liberal education at Villanova: education that is concerned with values and facts, as well as wisdom and knowledge; education that seeks freedom from ignorance, alienation, and inhumanity; that values intellectual integrity and tolerance over expediency, and breadth of scholarly achievement over specialized expertise.

As a strong believer in the value of the liberal arts and sciences, it was nice to see a celebration of those students who have excelled in their pursuit of such knowledge.

At its core, Villanova is a liberal arts and science university, and this is clearly stated on its web site:

A premier institution of higher education, Villanova provides a comprehensive education rooted in the liberal arts; a shared commitment to the Augustinian ideals of truth, unity and love; and a community dedicated to service to others.

and in its Mission Statement:

Villanova emphasizes and celebrates the liberal arts and sciences as foundational to all academic programs.

As evidence of this liberal arts and sciences foundation, business students take approximately 50 percent of their required courses in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The balance of business and liberal arts coursework serves to instill the fundamentals of critical insight, mature judgment, and independent thinking, and fosters a sense of the importance of values and the moral responsibility of caring for others and working for the betterment of society.

So while sports teams may capture most of the attention and recognition on a college campus, at its heart college is a academic enterprise, and students such as those inducted into Phi Beta Kappa are the real superstars.

Congratulations to the newest members of Phi Beta Kappa, I wish you continued success.

The Dash – A Story of a Life

I was at the funeral today of a former colleague, a wonderful man who devoted his life to helping others. During the service, the priest read a poem by Linda Ellis. The poem is titled “Dash“, and talks about the line that separates the date a person is born from the date a person dies. The dash, in essence represents our life, and all the experiences we have had from birth to death.

It’s a beautiful poem, and I thought I’d share it here:

I read of a man who stood to speak at the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on her casket from beginning to the end.

He noted that first came the date of her birth and spoke of the following date with tears,
but he said what mattered most of all was the dash between those years.

For that dash represents all the time that she spent alive on earth
and now only those who loved her know what that little line is worth.

For it matters not, how much we own, the cars, the house, the cash,
What matters is how we live and love and how we spend our dash.

So think about this long and hard; Are there things you would like to change?
For you never know how much time is left that can still be rearranged.

If we could just slow down enough to consider what is true and real
and always try to understand the way other people feel.

And be less quick to anger and show appreciation more
and love the people in our lives like we have never loved before.

If we treat each other with respect and more often wear a smile,
Remembering that this special dash might only last a little while.

So when your eulogy is being read with your life’s actions to rehash…
Would you be proud of the things they say about how you spent your dash?

I’m thinking I would like my dash to be in a bold font, to represent a life that was well-lived, but lived boldly. I’ve got some work to do to make that a reality.

Fortunately, I have been blessed with wonderful family and friends, and have already shared many wonderful experiences with them.

But hopefully, as Robert Frost said, I’ve still got “miles to go before I sleep”, and many more opportunities to make that dash bold and beautiful.


Another Enlightening Day at the Community College

Yesterday was the day Montgomery County Community College (Montco) distributed caps and gowns to its graduating students, with commencement set to be held this Thursday evening.

As part of the cap and gown distribution, the College was having a picnic for the students as well. In addition to the food tables, there were several tables set up for students to get info on graduation, local colleges, and the alumni association.

I had volunteered to help at the alumni association table, and it was a great opportunity to congratulate all of the graduating students. (It was also great to see the amount of diversity among the graduating students in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, color, and post Montco plans. In fact, in the one hour I was there, I think I saw more diversity than I’ve seen at many four-year colleges over the past 30 years.)

For several of the students, I asked them if they knew what their post-grad plans were, and every single one of the, 100%, had a ready answer; they had a plan.

There were no “”I’m not sure yet,” or  incoherent responses. Each student had a plan. Most of the ones I talked to were moving on to a four-year college, and the list of colleges I heard was quite impressive: Penn State, North Carolina, Cabrini, and Temple to name just.

If they weren’t going to college, the students were getting ready to join the work force. I remember one student in particular who was graduating with a degree in exercise science (the same one I received from Montco) and was now quite excited about the job opportunity he has a local YMCA to help develop a youth fitness program.

The whole experience convinced me even more that community colleges are the crown jewel of our post secondary educational system. If you believe in the power of education to change people’s lives, then you’d be hard-pressed to find a better pathway than a community college for millions of students to continue their educational journey (while saving a tremendous amount of cash as well.)

So congratulations and best wishes to Montco’s Class of 2017. I am honored to now call you a fellow alumnus, and I look forward to seeing many of you at upcoming alumni events.