On Wednesday, March 7, 2012, five accomplished alumni will be presented with 2012 John Jay Awards for distinguished professional achievement at the annual John Jay Awards Dinner.This year’s honorees were Dede Gardner ’90, Ellen Gustafson ’02, Ben Horowitz ’88, Daniel Loeb ’83 and Li Lu ’96, ’96L, ’96 Business. Here is Dan Loeb’s acceptance speech.
When I was in College I liked this Elvis Costello song, “What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding?” I think today we need a new song, “What’s So Funny About Individual Freedom, Free Enterprise and Accountability?”In fact, I might add what’s so funny about celebrating the entrepreneurial spirit that made this country great? This entrepreneurial spirit is applicable not only to business but also to the arts and to humanitarian efforts, as is evident by my fellow awardees tonight like Filmmaker Dede Gardner, Venture Philanthropist Ellen Gustafson, Venture Capitalist Ben Horowitz, and Tiananmen Square dissident turned fund manager the great venture capitalist Li Lu.
I think this is still an aspirational country, but there are some people who think it is fashionable to denigrate success, while others try to stir up class warfare. I was surprised last fall to see an Economics Professor ensconced in an Occupy Wall Street mob decrying the 1%, attributing all the country’s problems to an issue of poor distribution of wealth and accusing the so-called 1% of being lazy . Certainly he did not speak for the University where he is tenured but for but an economics Professor to carry on like this – really? We have a problem when young people are taught that our country is fundamentally unfair and encouraged to see themselves as victims. It is even more upsetting when our leaders tell us that it is their role to make amends for these wrongs via increased and capricious regulation, excessive entitlements, ill-conceived subsidies and punitive prosecutions.
So, I am delighted to stand here tonight to celebrate not my own success but to cheer the idea of professional accomplishment and the role Columbia has had in so many people’s lives in achieving their dreams through the John Jay scholarships and the College generally.
Columbia’s ability to attract and cultivate some of the nation’s greatest leaders goes back a few years. My fellow classmate President Barack Obama and I may not agree on everything, but I congratulate him on his phenomenal political career. And I’ll go back a few years further…
The namesake of this evening, John Jay, attended the College in 1760, was our first Chief Justice, and will always be remembered for his commitment to justice and successful efforts to emancipate the slaves in New York State. After two failed efforts in 1777 and 1785, he finally succeeded in 1799. It took almost another 30 years for all the slaves in New York State to be freed. Imagine that! What an inspiration John Jay’s grit and tenacity is for those of us who have been fighting for civil rights of marriage equality and education reform today. A worthy hero of Columbia College indeed
Alexander Hamilton began his studies at Kings College in 1773. From a shady Caribbean slave-trading Island, a bastard child orphaned at age 11, Hamilton studied military strategy with his fellow Kings College students, became one of the greatest leaders our nation has ever known, and created many of the institutions which define who we are today. An underprivileged student from a broken family who managed to go to Columbia and make good thanks to the generous support of others…sounds familiar.
For me, Columbia was transformative. I don’t remember much about the specifics of the Economics courses that I majored in – I apparently internalized the key concepts – but I still remember vividly the thrill of reading Don Quixote, Epictetus, The Aeneid, King Lear and Candide, and how contemporary the stories and ideas in these old and ancient texts struck me. To this day, I still chuckle when I consider the bawdy tales of Rabelais, who seems now to have anticipated and channeled my own 6 year-old son’s talent for potty talk. I fantasize that our politicians have been moved by the dialogues of Plato, and thus contemplate the ancient conflict of the sophists versus the lovers of truth. (I guess they determined that the former was the more expeditious course)
But Columbia was not just professors and books, it was the friendships and the conversations, often at Tom’s or the College Inn, sometimes about girls or dreams
or aspirations but often about those very great books or art, which we all internalized and helped form the fabric of who we are today. Two of those dear friends, Maurice Rasgon, who convinced me to transfer to Columbia and my friend Robert Brown, who let me sleep on his dorm room floor when I was briefly homeless, have travelled here all the way from California. So has my mother Clare, a historian who recently read Chernow’s Hamilton Biography with me in anticipation of this occasion.
Perhaps I was always intensely curious, but my Columbia education gave me a framework and a perspective to investigate new things – things that could be put into a historical and philosophical lineage. As I have grown older, the statues on Columbia’s campus of Rodin’s Thinker, Founding Fathers like Hamilton and Jefferson, and the values they represent have come to life and resonate within me.
Lastly, whatever measure of success I have attained in my professional career would not have been possible without the love and support of my wife Margaret and pales in comparison to the happiness she and my children give me every day. Thank you very much for this award.