Bono: 'What's Your Big Idea?'

Rocker Bono tells this year's grads about his struggle to help end AIDS and poverty in Africa, and why he loves America.

Continued from page 1

For four years you've been buying, trading, and selling, everything you've got in this marketplace of ideas. The intellectual hustle. Your pockets are full, even if your parents' are empty, and now you've got to figure out what to spend it on.



Well, the going rate for change is not cheap. Big ideas are expensive. The University has had its share of big ideas. Benjamin Franklin had a few, so did Justice Brennan and in my opinion so does Judith Rodin. They all knew that if you're gonna be good at your word if you're gonna live up to your ideals and your education, its' gonna cost you.



So my question I suppose is: What's the big idea? What's

your

big idea? What are you willing to spend your moral capital, your intellectual capital, your cash, your sweat equity in pursuing outside of the walls of the University of Pennsylvania?



There's a truly great Irish poet, his name is Brendan Kennelly, and he has this epic poem called the

Book of Judas

, and there's a line in that poem that never leaves my mind, it says: "If you want to serve the age, betray it." What does that mean to betray the age?



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Well to me betraying the age means exposing its conceits, its foibles; its phony moral certitudes. It means telling the secrets of the age and facing harsher truths.



Every age has its massive moral blind spots. We might not see them, but our children will. Slavery was one of them and the people who best served that age were the ones who called it as it was--which was ungodly and inhuman. Ben Franklin called it what it was when he became president of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society.



Segregation. There was another one. America sees this now but it took a civil rights movement to betray their age. And 50 years ago the U.S. Supreme Court betrayed the age May 17, 1954,

Brown vs. Board of Education

came down and put the lie to the idea that separate can ever really be equal. Amen to that.



Fast forward 50 years. May 17, 2004. What are the ideas right now worth betraying? What are the lies we tell ourselves now? What are the blind spots of our age? What's worth spending your post-Penn lives trying to do or undo? It might be something simple.



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