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At Commencement, Larry Lucchino Urges Risk-Taking, Generosity

Advice from Red Sox CEO: Seek balance in life, find time for family, remember Jackie Robinson

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Boston Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino helped break the “Curse of the Bambino.” Photo by Michael Hamilton

Breaking with the past was the theme of the day at Boston University’s 135th Commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 18. The change theme first appeared, happily, in the sun-filled skies that greeted the 5,800 graduates and 20,000 guests, a welcome contrast to the three-year run of soggy ceremonies. And it peaked with the advice of keynote speaker Larry Lucchino, president and chief executive officer of the Boston Red Sox, who urged the Class of 2008 to take risks in their lives and in their careers.

There was standing room only at Nickerson Field as BU President Robert A. Brown presided over a sea of scarlet robes and black mortarboards. “You join a long line of Boston University graduates, stretching over time to include over a quarter of a million living alumni,” he said. “On your shoulders rests an enormous responsibility for guiding America in the world and addressing the substantial challenges we face. You are the future for this University, for this country, and for mankind.”

Brown introduced Lucchino, a member of the ownership group that bought the Red Sox in 2001 and that helped to break the nearly century-old “Curse of the Bambino,” bringing the city a World Series title in 2004.

“I know you hoped for a Commencement speaker beloved in Boston — a man known for his popularity, character, and grace under pressure,” Lucchino began. “Unfortunately, Big Papi couldn’t make it.”

Many of the graduating seniors were treated to a second championship parade when the Red Sox again captured the title in 2007, and Lucchino was more than generous with credit for that coup. “The Boston University Class of 2008 helped propel the Red Sox to two World Series Championships in your four years here in town, as freshmen and as seniors,” Lucchino said. “Causation or correlation, your professors may ask. We think you guys helped make it happen.”

Heeding the advice of a friend to keep his speech brief, Lucchino, who has also been president of the Baltimore Orioles and the San Diego Padres, offered graduates a personal top 10 list — “some of the lessons that life and the world of sports have tried their best to teach me.”

“It was probably bold to assume we could move to Boston and acquire the storied Red Sox franchise in 2001,” he said. “It was bold to disregard the conventional wisdom that Fenway Park could not and should not be saved. It was bold to conclude that even a gifted 28-year-old could quickly become a successful general manager — but perhaps not really that risky, since he is the son of a distinguished professor and chair of the Creative Writing department here at Boston University.”

Lucchino also advised students to seek balance in their lives, to find time for family, and to remember Jackie Robinson.

“Be mindful of the catalytic effect one person can have on a community, on a neighborhood, on a nation, on a compelling cause, or a nagging injustice,” Lucchino said. “Hold within yourself a capacity for outrage at injustice. Be confident that if you fight long enough and hard enough, you, too, can make a difference. And like Jackie Robinson, you can do it with dignity.”

Lucchino’s final and most important piece of advice was to help some people along the way.

“For me, a two-time cancer survivor, cancer research and patient treatment are at the top of my priorities,” he said. “Life is not about warming yourself by the fire, it’s about building the fire. And generosity is the match. To consider yourself — and to be considered — capable is good. To consider yourself — and to be considered — loving is even better. But to know yourself as generous is best of all.”

Commencement student speaker Jennifer Quigley (UNI’08) acknowledged that her generation, the so-called Millennials, had caused older generations to worry, fearing that today’s graduates suffer from a “Mister Rogers” mentality, where everyone is special and the sky is the limit, and that “we think the business-as-usual ethic is for the birds.” She pointed to another BU alumnus, Martin Luther King, Jr. (GRS’55, Hon.’59), who took great pride in being “maladjusted” — to the status quo, to the ills of society, to war and violence. “And so, congratulations Class of 2008, having learned and continuing to learn from each other’s differences,” Quigley concluded. “I encourage us to take up the mantle of maladjustment and to make our own maladjusted future.”

Lucchino received an honorary Doctor of Laws at BU’s Commencement. Receiving honorary Doctors of Humane Letters were Earle M. Chiles, president of Earle Chiles and Affiliated Companies, a BU trustee emeritus, and a member of the University’s Board of Overseers; Millard “Mickey” Drexler (GSM’68), chairman and CEO of J. Crew Group, Inc., and a 2006 BU Alumni Award recipient; Baccalaureate speaker William H. Hayling, a physician who cofounded 100 Black Men, an organization that strives to improve the quality of life for African-Americans and other minorities; and Billie Jean King, the tennis legend who won 39 Grand Slam singles, doubles, and mixed doubles tennis titles and who was a leader in the movement to bring professionalism and gender equity to the sport.

The Metcalf Cup and Prize for Excellence in Teaching, the University’s highest teaching honor, was presented to Allison Adair, a poet and a lecturer in the College of Arts and Sciences Writing Program. Metcalf Awards were given to T. Jefferson Kline, a College of Arts and Sciences professor of French literature and cinema, and to Andrew Kull, a School of Law professor.

Caleb Daniloff can be reached at cdanilof@bu.edu.

5 Comments

5 Comments on At Commencement, Larry Lucchino Urges Risk-Taking, Generosity

  • Jeff Alexander on 05.19.2008 at 7:49 pm

    Lucchino speech

    My daughter Sara graduated on Sunday and I thoroughly enjoyed Larry Lucchino’s commencement speech. In fact is there some wy that I could get a copy of the speech or listen to it again?

  • cdanilof on 05.20.2008 at 1:16 pm

    speech is here

    http://www.bu.edu/phpbin/news/releases/display.php?id=1590

  • gretchen gorman on 05.24.2008 at 8:53 pm

    commencement speech

    What fabulous graduation. Mr. Lucinno outdid himself. Is there any way I can print out his speech or get a cd of the graduation?? I’d love my daughter to have it ofr ehr keeskae and we can enjoy it over and over in the meantime, Thankyou, gretchen g.

  • Ann from New Zealand on 06.01.2008 at 12:05 am

    BU Commencement 2008

    Congratulations to the BU staff, the BU admin and the BU school of communications. The commencement was hugely enjoyable; both fun and inspiring.

    Mr Lucchino gave a great speech to the the sea of red gowns set against the green grass and the blue skies.

    It’s not easy to create a memorable production for thousands, weather included but BU managed to make the ceremonies personal and larger than everyday life.

    Well done!

  • Luis Pineda on 12.22.2008 at 7:41 pm

    question

    It was a priviledge to hear mr. Luccino at my brother´s graduation, besides Mr Lucinno speech Where can I find a text of the BU´s chapel dean speech???

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