As you see, my speech will be awfully short on advice, but I do advise you that when you pick a spouse, pick one – be as lucky as I did, and pick one that fascinates you, and challenges you, and entertains you, that you enjoy like so much, as I do with Mary, and we're delighted to be returned to the city that we fell in love in, and we got married in, and now we're going to live in.
Now, I want to welcome all you "old" school fans – (Applause) – I left Louisiana in 1986 and returned in 2008, which is 22 years. To give you some idea of 22 years -- that was how long it took me to get out of undergraduate school – (Laughter) – or it's how long it took FEMA to get to New Orleans. I don't know which one, but -- (Laughter)
All of these commencements, and I've – from everywhere – from Pala Alto to Princeton, from Boulder to Boston, from Athens to Ann Arbor, all have a certain tenor, and that is that a commencement speaker is supposed to deliver some wisdom or observation, something about what they've learned, to you, and that's what's supposed to take you forward in life -- and you will get no such thing here in New Orleans. (Laughter) I'll promise you. The May air is full of such nauseating bunk. (Laughter).
But when you listen to what Dr. Cowen said – and I did the research – I thought I might use this, as the rabbis would say, as a teaching moment. And a teaching moment is not what I have to teach you. It's what "you" have taught "me," and what you have taught the world. That's right. This is about you giving me and the world an education.
The first thing you taught me – I suspected this was true, but I didn't know it. I now know it. The age of cynicism is dead. You drove a stake right through the heart of it. (Applause) Your fingerprints are all over it. You heard it. You left because of the storm. You had to disperse all over the country – 600 different schools. You heard about, "Oh, the heat, the humidity, the corruption, the crime," the this, "the geographics" – whatever -- you heard every reason that you shouldn't come back, and you did. Every cynic had every reason for you.
I want to remind you of what C.S. Lewis said in the 1943 essay. He said, "You can't go on seeing through things forever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To see through all things is to say is not to see." And every cynic, every person, could see through everything, but you felt – you felt that -- you felt it. And your feelings are much, much more important to you than your sight. Those are the most important things they have. And you saw it. And when this history of his generation is written – and Dr. Cowen is right, you are going to be the next-greatest generation. At the top – at the very top of this generation is going to be the Tulane Class of 2008. (Applause)
Lesson Number 2 -- in this teaching moment we're having here is: You did not fear failure. And I want to talk you a little bit about failure. Failure is to success what oxygen is to life. You say, "Wait a minute. That sounds absurd. How can -- "Failure is to success what oxygen is to life." There can be no success without failure. You instinctively understood that. Because in September of 2005, this was not an assured thing – not at all. In order to succeed you have to fail.
Let me give you an example. Now you say, "I'm a little bit skeptical of this. I need some proof." Okay. Who is the most successful American ever? Who is the person that – okay, I'll throw a name out just for the hell of it. How about Abe Lincoln, Springfield, Illinois? Pretty stout, wasn't he? Pretty stout. Who is the greatest failure in American history? Abraham Lincoln.
Let me read to you about Lincoln's failures, because I think it's very important to keep these in mind as you go forward, so you never fear failure. Lincoln failed in business as a shopkeeper. He failed as a farmer. He ran for the State legislature and lost. His sweetheart died. He had a nervous breakdown. When he finally got to the State legislature, he ran for Speaker and lost. He ran for Vice President -- lost. He ran for the Senate -- lost again. And when he was finally elected President – the nation he was elected to lead fell apart. As Commander in Chief, he was inexperienced. He lost the First Battle of Manassas, Big Bethel, Kessler's Cross Lanes, McDowell, Fort Monroe, Cross Keys, Fort Republic, Gaines' Mill, Cedar Mountain, Fair Oaks, Fairfield, Gap, Second Manassas, he pressed on, then he lost Harpers Ferry, Shepherdstown and the Battle of Fredericksburg.
And that was just a partial list of what he failed at. He was prone to depression during the war. His son, Willie, died, and his wife was the subject of bitter political attacks.
You're not going to fail as much as Lincoln (Laughter), so don't worry about it. Have no fear. Have no fear. And you've already shown – you've already shown a knack for looking failure in the eye and pressing on, and pressing on.
I also think – Lesson Number 3 -- it is completely and totally appropriate that this class graduate in this building. A little bit about the history of this building. (Applause) There is a – I think a great movie, but certainly a movie that's produced a line that defines the generation before you. A Field of Dreams, where they said, "If you build it, they will come." "If you build it, they will come." And they built this building, and they came. The Rolling Stones came here – largest indoor concert ever. President – my wife's idol, President George H. W. Bush was nominated in this building. Pope John Paul II came to this building. Six Super Bowls – more than any other – come to this building. The BCS Championship – of which my beloved Tigers have won two -- have come to this building. Mohammed Ali came here for a championship fight; he came to this building. We all have the energy of this building hosting people who had no place left to go during Hurricane Katrina. This building has a glorious history. Many great things have happened here.
But you remember this for the rest of your life: Maybe the greatest thing that happened here is that this class came here to graduate. Because the maxim, "If we build it, they will come," has now changed. And it is now, "We will come and we build it." And that marks a departure. And that's the significance of what you mean, and what you mean in this building that has hosted and seen, and been a part of so much.
So you will go on, and because of what you've learned and what you felt, and what you all have been through, you'll all go far in life. Some of you will go distant from here -- many places, many achievements, many accomplishments. What I want you to try to do is save a sliver in your heart for this magnificent university and its faculty, who educated you; for this utterly wonderful, interesting, fascinating city, who thanks you; and for this very humble and respectful commencement speaker, who loves you.
Thank you. (Applause)
Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 504-865-4000 firstname.lastname@example.org