Michael Bloomberg Tells Harvard Grads to Enjoy ‘One Last Scorpion Bowl’
Oh, and some stuff about standing up for their beliefs and the beliefs of others.
Besides dropping the term “OMG” at the start and telling students to “enjoy one last Scorpion Bowl at the [Hong] Kong” before departing from Harvard’s campus for good, there were a few other reasons former Mayor Michael Bloomberg deemed his commencement speech somewhat unconventional on Thursday.
The Medford native and Harvard Business School alumnus, who served more than a decade as mayor of New York City, brought the message to the class of the 2014 class that protecting freedom of speech and understanding the opinions of others is what drives America forward and makes it stand out from other countries around the world. Telling graduates that the union of all 50 states rests on the union of two core values—freedom and tolerance—Bloomberg said it’s important for people to respect the lives and decisions of others, especially if they want their own actions to be respected.
“If you want the freedom to worship as you wish, and speak as you wish, and marry as you wish, then you must tolerate my freedom to do so,” Bloomberg said. “Attempting to restrict my freedoms in ways you would not restrict your own leads only to injustice. We can’t deny others’ rights and privileges that we demand for ourselves. And that’s true in our cities, and it’s no less true [at our educational institutes].”
Bloomberg said great universities are places where people of all backgrounds, holding all different beliefs, can come to study and debate their ideas freely and openly. He said it’s important for that freedom to exist for everyone, no matter what they believe in, and whether or not others disagree with their viewpoints.
Bloomberg directed this advice toward recent reports of commencement speakers being asked to shy away from appearances at schools this season due to protests based on their political or personal beliefs. He said in each of these cases—Brandeis University and Smith College included—a person’s voice was silenced and they were denied an honorary degree because they were deemed politically controversial. “This is an outrage and we must not let it continue,” Bloomberg said, adding that it’s critical that censorship and conformity—the enemies of freedom—don’t win out. “Isn’t the purpose of a university to stir discussion, not silence it? It’s morally and pedagogically wrong to deny other students from hearing a speech.”
Applauding Harvard for not caving “into these censorship challenges” when they have presented themselves, Bloomberg told students it’s a school’s obligation to teach them not what to think, but how to think critically, including listening to the other side and considering other people’s points of view. “The more we accept political diversity, the healthier we are, and the stronger our society will be,” he said. “I know this is not a typical commencement speech, but there is no easy time to say hard things. Graduates, throughout your lives don’t be afraid to say what you believe is right, no matter how unpopular it may be…the arch of history will be on your side, and our nation will be stronger for it.”
After hammering their brains with a moral fortitude to take with them as they cross into the next chapters of their lives, Bloomberg made sure to also remind graduates to live a little before getting serious about changing the world. “Have one last Scorpion Bowl at the Kong,” he said, jokingly. “And tomorrow, get back to work at making our country and our world freer forever, and freer for everyone.”
Watch the full 24-minute speech below: