Thomas Friedman at Grinnell College

by James on May 24, 2009

Good message!

Become the generation that will be called the Re-Generation.

Thomas Friedman, New York Times world affairs columnist and prolific author, gave the commencement address at Grinnell College on Monday May 19, 2009. You can hear the entire address (in 3 installments totaling just under 25 minutes) courtesy of YouTube.

In his initial remarks Friedman related several issues cited by fellow journalist Kurt Andersen in his recent Time magazine article, The End of Excess.

Continuing, Friedman then focused on a generational theme, first on the The Greatest Generation (that of his parents and grandparents – the generation that survived The Great Depression then fought in World War II). He cited the qualities that characterized the greatest generation:

  • hard work
  • delayed gratification
  • achievement oriented
  • focused attention

Those were my parents too and I would add to that list

  • frugal
  • humble
  • accountable

Friedman contrasted the Greatest Generation with his own generation, the baby boomers (post-WWII babies) and named that generation the Grasshopper Generation – eating through the fabric of the nation like hungry locusts. He credited the grasshopper generation with such dubious qualities as

  • excess (over-consuming, over-building, over-borrowing, over-lending, over-eating) and
  • dumb as we wanna be (delaying the solutions to Social Security, health care, energy, environment, and immigration).

He cited the subprime meltdown in particular as illuminating a decline in basic values, risk management, accountability, and ethics.

Friedman then challenged the Grinnell graduates to become the Re-Generation

that could restore the basic values of

  • hard work
  • accountability

and added that the graduates should carry with them

  • ethics
  • uncompromising idealism
  • unbending convictions
  • principled behaviors

and that they should create value through

  • invention
  • innovation
  • imagination

all in order to do real engineering of materials, of services, of societal movement that fulfill needs, both seen and unseen.

It was great advice to the Grinnell College Class of 2009.

Friedman also told an interesting story with several Iowa connections. While studying in London in 1975 and dating wife-to-be Ann Bucksbaum, daughter of Carolyn “Kay” (a Grinnell alum) and Matthew Bucksbaum (an Iowa alum), Friedman (not a journalist at the time) was so stirred by the politics of the day that he wrote an op-ed piece. Ann carried it back to Des Moines. The piece made its way to The Des Moines Register editorial page editor who published it. Friedman received $50, and he was hooked as a journalist. Thus, Friedman’s exceptional career has a strong Des Moines connection.

If you’d like to read two recent Friedman books try

photos by James G. Lindberg

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