Mike Veeck: CGC commencement address 2010
My dad would never believe it. Good afternoon family and friends, distinguished visitors, and most of all, to the graduates—congratulations.
Speaking of which, I think this is a pretty good house, General. I got news for you—the RiverDogs, for a crowd this size, we’d play a double-header. I think we’d come to your home and play, as a matter of fact, for this many.
I called my mother this morning. You know, it’s Happy Mother’s Day to all of you. This is one great holiday we can all celebrate, and I tip my hat especially—this is my mother’s 60th Mother’s Day. She had nine of us. My mother and father liked baseball so much that they had their own team. When the DH was introduced, Mom left town.
I couldn’t resist that. I called her, and I said, “I’m speaking at The Citadel commencement this morning.”
And she said, “Why?”
And I said, “I’m your son.”
And she said, “Be brief.”
I thought she meant keep it down to a few minutes. She said, “You can’t tell them very much.”
When you’re 89, you just don’t have an edit writer anymore.
The truth of the matter is that no one will ever stand here in front of you and be as appreciative as I am this afternoon. Not so much for the honorary doctorate, but more for the opportunity that was extended to me a couple years ago.
Andy Solomon called me one day on behalf of The Citadel and said, “You have an opportunity to teach.”
And I thought that I was actually going to come here and say something worth listening to. In truth, I met 26 of the most incredibly wise and wonderful people that I’ve had the opportunity to meet in my entire life. It changed my life. That teaching opportunity to come face-to-face with people who really gave everything for the chance to have, as General Rosa said, “more knowledge,” who put their money where their mouth was and sacrificed. And when I left that classroom 15 weeks later, I had these couple of ideas that I think are the secret to life that I learned in that classroom.
Guard your passion, ladies and gentlemen. The world is difficult sometimes, and we want to steel that which makes us who we are, each one of us different, the passion that makes us go forward and have fun. Take your work seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously. Eighty percent of what we accomplish is done in 20 percent of the time. It’s the stuff of which dreams are made of and the things about which we’re passionate.
Exercise your right to have fun. I don’t expect you to do some of the things that—oh, my mother said to apologize, also. If I’ve offended anyone, the “Tonya Harding Mini-Bat Night” probably was ill-advised.
You know, every once in a while, you just make mistakes, but Linda Ellerbee said, “I think laughter may be a form of courage. As humans, we look into the sun and we laugh and I think we’re never more human and we’re never more courageous than when we do that.”
The most beautiful sound in the world will happen in about an hour at the end of this ceremony and the laughter and the joy that all of those sacrifices and all of the work means and we are a people in sore need of the sound of laughter. So, go forth and be silly. Never undervalue your values. Whatever it is that you stand for, you have to “stand for something or you’ll fall for anything,” as I believe Mr. Mellencamp said. And don’t let the world chip away at your moral compass, at that little voice that we all know what it means.
The world needs hope. What we’ve celebrating today is hope in its purest form, the ability to go forth and create something from nothing, from purely your intellect. I know about hope, because as the general said, my mother and father owned some of the worst ball clubs in the history of the world.
With the St. Louis Browns, people would call and say, “What times are the Browns playing today?”
And my mother would say, “What time’s convenient for you all to get here?”
Work with people that you can take home to Mother. My generation came up with a terrible idea which was you couldn’t fraternize with people with whom you worked, but if you’re going to spend 60 hours creating dreams, then you should love the people with whom you work. And if you don’t, don’t work with them… if you can’t take them home to Mom.
The workplace right now is a world of change and opportunity. This is the greatest time in this country’s history. You listen to the pundits and they say, “Oh, it’s never been a worse time.”
The fact is is that this is the time that creativity matters more than any time I can remember in my 45-year—what I laughingly call—my career. Ideas matter. Ideas.
We’ve taken back our country from the bankers and from the money lenders, and once again, what will make this country reassert will be you all and what you’ll create from whole cloth. And besides, think about the root of the word “recession.” It’s recess.
Be not afraid of change—it’s inevitable. Great leadership is an acceptance of change. So many times, we have a success and we don’t spend time and savor it. Savor your successes today. Take an extra moment with the people you love, who contributed to your success, and hold one another close, and thank one another. The human condition is never more important than when there are two participating. Change. Life isn’t a dress rehearsal. This is it. It’s a wonderful stop, a marvelous hotel.
And my last, and then I’ll go quietly because there isn’t a Veeck who can say hello in less than 10,000 words, and I wouldn’t want to run over my allotted 7.36 seconds. Give back to your family, to your community, like so many of the people introduced. The real joy and knowledge and the real joy and intellect and erudition is knowing that it affected someone. Start today, mentor someone. Start tomorrow and care for someone, and the world opens up. Be optimistic, ladies and gentlemen. I’m living proof that with absolutely no talent, you can make a living.
I leave you with a story. The man I most admired, my father. He was the most optimistic man I ever met and every spring—he had a peg leg, it was great. It was like being raised by Long John Silver. And he’d walk out to the back yard, and he’d send one of his nine kids down to the hardware store for a can of paint, and he’d paint his leg bronze and then he’d take his shirt off and try to match his tan. That, ladies and gentlemen, is an optimistic man.
He, of course, would then call all the kids in the neighborhood together and say, “Get me a nail.” Get me a hammer, Belinda.” And he’d wait until all the kids were gathered around and he’d take that 10-penny nail and he’d drive it into his leg, and he’d look at the kids and say, “Go home, and see if your old man can do that.”
Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. Congratulations! Go forth and fight for the right to think!