Steven Van Zandt tells Rutgers grads, ‘We started some things, but you’ve got to finish them’

Steven Van Zandt speaks at Rutgers University’s commencement ceremony.

There will now be a doctor in the house every time Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band perform. Steven Van Zandt received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from Rutgers University today, in the school’s graduation ceremony at High Point Solutions Stadium in Piscataway.

One of the themes of his speech was that people of his generation have made some progress in terms of civil rights, the environment and other matters of vital importance, but that it’s up to today’s graduates to finish the job.

(May 17 Update: For the text of his entire speech, click here.)

The 66-year-old musician, activist and arts supporter graduated from Middletown High School in the ’60s, but does not have an undergraduate college degree.

Here’s a transcript of the last few minutes of his address, with a video below.

What have I learned in this crazy life? A few things might come in handy.

When your ship comes in, you’ll probably be at the airport. I mean, you can make all the plans you want, but keep your eyes open for unexpected opportunities, because that’s where most of life comes from.

Keep your standards high no matter what. Don’t compare yourself to your contemporaries, compare yourself to the best.

Do your homework before you open your mouth.

Find a way to do what you love, because you’re going to be doing it a long time.

Hang out as often as you can with people smarter and better than you.

Finish what you start. Don’t listen to excuses and negativity about why something can’t be done.

And don’t tolerate incompetence and mediocrity. Have pride in whatever you do. If you’re gonna do something, do it right.

And when it comes to art, slow down. It’s not a math problem. Let the senses soak it in.

And give a little back on a regular basis. It doesn’t matter how small. You don’t have to bring down a bad government every day. Just do something nice for somebody, you’ll feel better.

My generation was gonna change the world. We started some things, but you’ve got to finish them. We got civil rights and voting rights passed, now gerrymandering and voter suppression is taking it away. We started women’s rights and LGBTQ rights, you’ve gotta finish it.

You’ve got separation of church and state behind you, but be aware the biggest threat to this country is religious extremists โ€” some foreign, mostly domestic.

We established environmental protection, and now the environment is under attack like never before. You know the future is green, I know the future is green. You’ve gotta finish the job, and don’t be confused by all these cute scientific phrases like global warming, climate change. Just remember this: It’s pollution, it’s poison, okay? There’s no acceptable level of poison in our air, food, ground or water. None, zero, zip, niente, nada.

I leave you with this. My father was a proud ex-Marine Goldwater Republican โ€” he wouldn’t recognize the party now. I paraphrase Barry Goldwater as a tribute to my late father: Extremism in defense of the environment is no vice, and moderation in the pursuit of stopping pollution is no virtue.

Lead us into a green future. Reach for greatness, nothing less. And make sure you have some fun along the way. Life should never be boring.

Congratulations. Go get ’em.

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