Scenes from a Bowery flophouse.
The triple life of G-Rock: upscale house painter, lifelong Crip, FBI informant.
In a speech that’s getting a bit of flak for recycling some of his past lines, the stage- and screenwriter says it’s okay to make mistakes along the way:
And make no mistake about it, you are dumb. You're a group of incredibly well-educated dumb people. I was there. We all were there. You're barely functional. There are some screw-ups headed your way. I wish I could tell you that there was a trick to avoiding the screw-ups, but the screw-ups, they're a-coming for ya. It's a combination of life being unpredictable, and you being super dumb.
"We know that in public life, as in personal life, nothing is more destructive of the self than being surrounded by sycophants."
The Mexican novelist and activist talks about the role that the US plays in the hemisphere, and a joint future for North and South America.
We need your memory and your imagination or ours shall never be complete. You need our memory to redeem your past, and our imagination to complete your future. We may be here on this hemisphere for a long time. Let us remember one another. Let us respect one another. Let us walk together outside the night of repression and hunger and intervention, even if for you the sun is at high noon and for us at a quarter to twelve.
On the fascination, from Hollywood to Atlanta, with zombies.
A dispatch from the early days of AIDS:
It is as relentless as leukemia, as contagious as hepatitis, and its cause has eluded researchers for more than two years.
The Canadian scapegoat of the AIDS epidemic.
It was the worst AIDS crisis in years—until it wasn’t.
Pathologists and epidemiologists take on “the confounding killer known as AIDS.”
The Radiolab host on why young journalists should stop waiting for their turn and embrace the idea of horizontal loyalty:
Think about turning to people you already know, who are your friends, or friends of their friends and making something that makes sense to you together, that is as beautiful or as true as you can make it.
The Facebook COO on her generation’s failures and the continuing gender gap in American business and politics.
Today, we turn to you. You are the promise for a more equal world. You are our hope. I truly believe that only when we get real equality in our governments, in our businesses, in our companies and our universities, will we start to solve this generation’s central moral problem, which is gender equality.
A former ambassador to China and potential 2012 GOP candidate on the power of optimism:
Remember others. The greatest exercise for the human heart isn't jogging or aerobics or weight lifting – it's reaching down and lifting another up. Find a cause larger than yourself, then speak out and take action. Never let it be said that you were too timid or too weak to stand by your cause. Learn what it feels like to give 100 percent to others. It’ll change your life.
The author comments on the medium of the graduation cliché while still advancing it:
Of course the main requirement of speeches like this is that I'm supposed to talk about your liberal arts education's meaning, to try to explain why the degree you are about to receive has actual human value instead of just a material payoff. So let's talk about the single most pervasive cliché in the commencement speech genre, which is that a liberal arts education is not so much about filling you up with knowledge as it is about "teaching you how to think". If you're like me as a student, you've never liked hearing this, and you tend to feel a bit insulted by the claim that you needed anybody to teach you how to think, since the fact that you even got admitted to a college this good seems like proof that you already know how to think.
Pinch-hitting for an ailing Ted Kennedy, the then-candidate honors the Kennedy’s life of service and implores graduates to wed their lives to others:
Ted Kennedy often tells a story about the fifth anniversary celebration of the Peace Corps. He was there, and he asked one of the young Americans why he had chosen to volunteer. And the man replied, ‘Because it was the first time someone asked me to do something for my country.’ I don’t know how many of you have been asked that question, but after today, you have no excuses.
The doctor and New Yorker writer on embracing the shortcomings of expertise:
The truth is that the volume and complexity of the knowledge that we need to master has grown exponentially beyond our capacity as individuals. Worse, the fear is that the knowledge has grown beyond our capacity as a society.
Speaking to a group that started their college lives in September, 2001, the host of The Daily Show embraces how difficult the real world is:
I want to address is the idea that somehow this new generation is not as prepared for the sacrifice and the tenacity that will be needed in the difficult times ahead. I have not found this generation to be cynical or apathetic or selfish. They are as strong and as decent as any people that I have met. And I will say this, on my way down here I stopped at Bethesda Naval, and when you talk to the young kids that are there that have just been back from Iraq and Afghanistan, you don’t have the worry about the future that you hear from so many that are not a part of this generation but judging it from above.
Former Washington Post opinion page editor Greenfield on not being overwhelmed by the past in the search for a “better truth”:
History helps guard against moral smugness too, or it should, anyway. For you are obliged, if you are honest, to acknowledge at least some reflection or resonance of the fallen ones in your own nature. Such humility is a conspicuously missing aspect of our contemporary culture, however. What might be a becoming spell of moral introspection, tends instead to become an orgy of bashing and blaming. I observe that now, as always in this country, when people speak of a terrible, all embracing decline in ethical standards, they are invariably speaking of the decline in their next door neighbor's standards, not their own.
The Washington University philosophy professor devotes 4,697 words to the importance of using one’s education to better communicate with loved ones:
I want to talk to you about talking, that commonest of all our intended activities, for talking is our public link with one another; it is a need; it is an art; it is the chief instrument of all instruction; it is the most personal aspect of our private life. To those who have sponsored our appearance in the world, the first memorable moment to follow our inaugural bawl is the birth of our first word. It is that noise, a sound that is no longer a simple signal, like the greedy squalling of a gull, but a declaration of the incipient presence of mind, that delivers us into the human realm.
The comedian speaks to his alma mater about the importance of taking risks, and his own rocky path from college to the late-night stage:
What else can you expect in the real world? Let me tell you. As you leave these gates and re-enter society, one thing is certain. Everyone out there is going to hate you. Never tell anyone in a roadside diner that you went to Harvard. In those situations, the correct response to, “Where did you go to school?” is “School? I never had much in the way of book learnin’ and such.” And then get in your BMW and get the hell out of there. Go.