'Greed Is Good': Top 7 Most Piggish Commencement Speeches
It’s that time of year. The sun is shining, the flowers are in bloom and all across America, graduating students are forced to endure that dreaded rite of passage, the commencement speech. Often boring, typically clichéd and frequently self-aggrandizing, commencement speeches form their own subgenre of fatuous prose.
Get out the barf bag! Here are a few choice orations from some of America’s most illustrious jerks.
1. Ivan Boesky at Berkeley, 1986
Ivan Boesky was a big-time stock trader who hustled his way to riches betting on corporate takeovers. On May 18, 1986 at the University of California, Berkeley, he shared these lustrous pearls of wisdom with business school students:
“Greed is all right, by the way. I want you to know that. I think greed is healthy. You can be greedy and still feel good about yourself.”
Boesky clearly felt very good about himself at the time. But not for long. Several months after the address, Boesky was nabbed by the SEC when it found that his stock manipulations were often based on tips from corporate insiders which is –oopsie! – illegal. Mr. Greed soon found himself in possession of a nice prison cell.
Oliver Stone used Boesky’s speech as the inspiration for one given by the ethically challenged corporate raider Gordon Gekko in the 1987 film Wall Street. “Greed is good” became the catchphrase for Wall Street callousness and excess.
2. Jamie Dimon at Syracuse, 2010
Just two years after the Wall Street-driven crisis left many Americans itching to grab the nearest pitchfork, the JPMorgan Chase honcho was invited to speak to Syracuse students, despite a wave of protests. His speech pretty much alternates between insisting that he’s not like the rest of those banker a-holes and finding new ways to praise himself. He also makes a stab at humor:
“Graduating today means you are through with…the cold sweat of sleepless nights preparing to answer seemingly impossible questions. Well, that’s a feeling we banking executives know pretty well these days – we call it ‘testifying before Congress.’”
Haha! LOL! In 2012, Dimon demonstrated his coolness under pressure by calmly lying to Congress when questioned about the infamous London Whale fiasco in which billions of dollars went missing from his bank.
Which is interesting when you consider how much lip service he gave to the subject of honesty in his speech, including this gem: “One must be honest with one’s self to be accountable. Shakespeare said it best: ‘To thine own self be true.’” (Dimon evidently skipped English 101 in college, or he would have known that Shakespeare was being sarcastic.) It must be said that Dimon honestly likes being really rich, so in that sense he has remained remarkably true to himself.
3. Lance Armstrong at Tufts, 2006
The cyclist and doper extraordinaire gave the commencement speech at Tufts in 2006, where he was also awarded an honorary doctorate (since rescinded). The subject of Armstrong’s oratory was the need for students to follow his shining example and become actively engaged citizens. At one point he describes his cancer doctor speaking to him of the need to fight for the cure:
“I, of course, loved the idea that he wanted to talk to me about something that even mentioned the word 'cure,' thinking he might want to tell me he snuck me the secret stuff that works every time.”
Turns out Armstrong knew all about the secret stuff that works every time. Too bad for the millions of kids, sports fans and cancer patients who looked up to him.