Bruce Springsteen said it’s a sin not to vote and told college freshmen “you stand sentry at the door of a free nation” during his online convocation speech for Boston College, Sept. 10. You can read a transcript or watch it, below.
Springsteen’s son Evan graduated from BC in 2012 and freshmen were asked, this year, to read Springsteen’s 2016 autobiography “Born to Run” as a “shared experience.” A different book, often a memoir by a contemporary figure, is chosen every year.
Springsteen had been planning to give the speech in person, but it was changed to an online event, viewable by the general public, because of the pandemic. After the speech, Springsteen answered students’ questions.
I have not transcribed the question-and-answer part of the event, but that is viewable in the video below. Start at the 25:50 mark for the speech, or at the 33:25 mark for the question-and-answer session.
Here is the transcript, with the video below it:
“Hello! Greetings, Boston College incoming class of 2024. If you completed your assignment and read my book, you will know I got into rock ‘n’ roll for the sex, the drugs, and the sex. Uh, wait a minute, that’s the wrong speech. Only joking. Let’s start again. All right.
“Hi. I wish we could have all been together tonight, but as you know, circumstances don’t allow. Now I, like you, have a high school diploma. But I am 70 years old. And I do not, and will never have, a college degree. I’ve grown up in the music business, which is filled with many odd and unusual creatures, and one learns experientially, not from the book. In my business, you graduate, as the cliché has it, from the school of hard knocks. That’s your degree. I lived that. It has its merits. But overall, I regret missing out on college. It’s going to be unforgettable and the ride of your life. My son, who graduated from this very institution, told me so.
“You will spend your next four years living in a place where the life of the mind is paramount. The life of the mind is a beautiful thing. Along with your spiritual life, it’s the apotheosis of human experience. Take pleasure in your body, and your physical life, and your youth. Don’t waste it, because aches and pains are coming. But here in this place, you will not neglect the life of your mind.
“I missed that my first time around, and I had to do my best to make it up on my own. I had to seek my teachers, and my mentors, in libraries, and on the street. It worked, but I was not able to immerse myself in a place entirely dedicated to learning, and I wish that I had.
“What you’re about to embark upon will be the greatest adventure of your young life. You can waste it, you can half-ass your way through it, or you can absorb every minute of what you’re experiencing and come out on the other end an individual of expanded vision, of intellectual vigor, of spiritual character and grace, fully prepared to meet the world on its own terms. To be young in this beautiful and accommodating city, and to be engaged in the life of this school, is a great privilege.
“Now, we are currently in the midst of an historic experience. On our watch, they shut down the United States of America, and the world, for the past half year. You are the first coron-ial generation. You are already wizened by this experience, so appreciate the underappreciated. Sporting events. Getting together with your friends. Concerts — remember those? Well, we will soon look to you for answers, for a safer and better world.
“So where do you start?
“Satisfying work. Spend your energy doing and studying something that inspires you and that you love. You will never regret it. At your age, I was making 15 bucks a night playing in a little bar in Asbury Park, and I loved every minute of it, because I loved what I was doing. Work that satisfies, and inspires. It’s one of the most important aspects of a fulfilling life. Money, it’s great. But alone, it ain’t gonna do it. Everybody wants to do well. But don’t just do well, as they say, do good. Choose something that makes you happy. That makes you want to get up and go to work in the morning, and allows you to rest easy at night. Then find out where and how you can give back, because you’re gonna always get more than you give.
“2) Relationships. You’ve got to learn how to love and how to let yourself be loved. This is essential to the health of your soul. That is how you will prove yourself of value to your community, your family, your partner. Find your place in their lives, and find out how to thrive there. Find out who you are. As Socrates supposedly said, ‘The unexamined life is not worth living.’ Express your emotions, share your inner life, and be emotionally generous with your friends and your partner. All of these things will make you a stronger presence in your community, and will allow you to give more of yourself freely and lovingly. This will make you happy.
“Learn how to be an informed, active and engaged citizen. Your country needs you. Your vision, your energy and your love. Yes, your love. Love your country, but never fail to be critical when it comes to your country’s living up to your and its ideals. Listen to the voices calling you from our founding documents and keep faith with them. And vote. Vote, vote, vote. Only half of all Americans vote. It’s a sin. Voting is an enormous privilege, and one of our most sacred rights as citizens. You can change the course of history. The 2000 election was decided by 500 votes or less.
“We’ve recently seen how fragile our democracy can be. You stand sentry at the door of a free nation. We need your judgment, we need your vigilance and your commitment to a greater America, the America that we carry in our hearts.
“Now the American experiment, just as you are today, is an unfulfilled promise. The distance between the American dream and our American reality remains greater than ever. It will soon be in the hands of your generation, to do your damnedest to make up and heal that divide. That’s a lot to ask. But that’s what it means, if you’ll excuse me, to be born in the U.S.A.
“Last but not least, heal thyself. We all come into this world in trauma. The first thing that happens is we’re thrown out of our motherly home. And the first thing we do is cry. We don’t come out laughing.
“There will be plenty of laughter to come. And love. Love is all there is. Love your neighbors, love your friends, love your family, love your partner. And love yourself. Good luck. Enjoy the ride.”
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