Kenneth Feinberg Speech - Commencement 2015

May 17, 2015


Commencement Address
Stonehill College
Kenneth R. Feinberg
Administrator, One Fund Boston; Special Master, September 11 Victim Compensation Fund
May 17, 2015

Thank you Corey Dolgon, President Denning and distinguished officials of Stonehill College.

Guests, faculty, parents and graduates of Stonehill. It is a particular honor for me to be here today in the shadow of my hometown, Brockton, where I attended West Junior High School and Brockton High School. So, there is a healthy dose of nostalgia that brings me back here today to receive an honorary Degree from this distinguished Institution.

I graduated Brockton High School in 1963 and ranked in the middle of my class. Based on my high school transcript, I certainly would not have been admitted to Stonehill. So, I appreciate your willingness to ignore my high school record over 50 years ago. This is one indirect way of obtaining a coveted Stonehill Degree. All good things come to he who waits- even over 50 years later!

Stonehill College is not the same school it was when I graduated from Brockton High. By every indicator- official publications, magazine articles, informal college rankings - Stonehill has momentum. Not only is it one of the Nation's top "up and coming schools," it also ranks high in other critically important categories: "happiest student body" (I like that one) and one of the Nation's "most beautiful campuses.' You must be doing something right here in Easton.

And let's not forget the MacPhaidin Library and your new Shields Science Center.

I understand that Shields has special windows to keep cool air in and "hot air out." Since there is a great deal of "hot air" generated on campus throughout the year -- especially by faculty-- this is a welcome improvement!

 I want to assure this audience, especially you Stonehill graduates, of the major applause line of my talk- that I will be brief. (I knew it.)

 I just want to make three points about the next phase of your lives after you leave Stonehill, three points that are all too often overlooked.

First, don't plan too far ahead. Do not assume that the path you choose today will turn out to be your life's pursuit. If I have learned anything over my professional lifetime - in compensating the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Boston Marathon bombings, the Virginia Tech and Colorado movie shootings - it is that life is uncertain. Sooner or later we all confront the unforeseen, the unanticipated, the unpredictable.

On September 11, 2001 families said goodbye to one another, without the slightest idea they would never see each other again.

On Patriot's Day, the joy of the Boston Marathon was marred by an unimaginable terrorist attack; a holiday celebration was transformed into a day of tragedy.

In 2009, parents pointed with pride to their sons and daughters attending Virginia Tech, in bucolic, rural Virginia. They soon learned, to their horror, that nobody is immune from tragedy; some 32 students and faculty murdered by a troubled student.

And in 2012, an enjoyable evening watching the premiere of "Dark Knight" at a Colorado movie theater turned into unspeakable tragedy, when moviegoers were shot dead by a lone gunman.

Do not assume you control your destiny, that you are immune from misfortune and life's uncertainties. And do not believe that the challenges you confront today, including the uncertainties that may cast doubt over your future plans, are fixed and unalterable. They are not. I predict you will overcome new challenges with the same type of determination that you exhibited while attending Stonehill.

With your degree in hand, some of you may believe you have a clear blueprint for moving forward in life. You may think you know what you will be doing five or ten years from now. Or, you may see the glass as half empty. You have a degree but have no idea what you will do with it. Good jobs are scarce. Employment is uncertain. It appears to some of you that your professional goals are unobtainable.

Don't fall prey to such thinking. Your Stonehill degree is a valuable source of pride and encouragement. Cherish it. You have already achieved an important milestone in your life. Take pride in what you have accomplished. You have earned the praise and congratulations of family and friends. You have exhibited the type of discipline, maturity and commitment that helps fuel your future quest.

But a Stonehill degree is not a life insurance policy guaranteeing success. It is but a stepping stone in the right direction, proof that each of you has the skill and the dedication to soldier on in attempting to achieve your life's ambition.

It is circumstantial evidence of a future filled with promise and success. But just as you earned your degree today through hard work and perseverance, you'll need to redouble your efforts going forward.

My second point deals with the subject of "happiness". Of the many life goals anticipated upon graduating from Stonehill - wealth, status, stimulating work, respect of your peers - day-to-day happiness often seems to be far down the list. Perhaps -- just perhaps -- too many of you are focused on the wrong priorities.

I have concluded that all too often college graduates are driven by the need to secure the obvious at any cost- a good job that pays well. But high income or a great job often has zero correlation with happiness and well-being. What about your independence, your autonomy, your social engagement, your personal life - what happens to all of this if you give it all up in the quest for the "perfect job?"

 I am not saying that employment is irrelevant to happiness. I am saying that it should not be the defining factor in determining a life worth living. Beware of the argument heard constantly-that your Stonehill degree helps determine your future employment which in turn guarantees your happiness. Not so. Your degree and subsequent job do not guarantee happiness and personal satisfaction. There is much more to life than the never ending search for the next job, the next raise in pay, the ability to pay country club dues, send your children to private school, and own a second automobile.

Your Stonehill degree is a better reflection of your overall happiness, your diverse interests, worldliness, your principles and values. What I call your "happiness quotient." Do not view your degree as a mere precondition of employment. It is much more than that.

Finally, a few words about public service and giving back to the community.

Stonehill has always been committed to forging strong bonds of community while promoting a tradition of public service. This has been its philosophy since it was founded in 1948.

Over 50 years ago a fair haired son of Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy, became President of the United States. He told us in words that still ring true today: that "every single individual can make a difference,” that, “public service is a noble undertaking," and that "government is not a bad word."

President Kennedy's legacy is more important today than ever before (just ask Doris Drummond, a key member of the JFK Presidential Library staff in Boston whose son is graduating Stonehill today). At a time when there is so much cynicism about government, such distrust of our elected officials, such pessimism about our Nation's future, President's Kennedy's words and deeds should reinvigorate the public debate and reinforce our determination to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

Each of you Stonehill graduates has an obligation to give back to the community, to reestablish a sense of national optimism, to make a difference - just what President Kennedy exemplified. You can do so in countless ways government service, private sector success, the charity and foundation worlds - the opportunities are endless.

But avoid limiting your achievements to self-satisfaction, self-defined success and personal gain at the expense of community; remember President Kennedy's call to arms, his emphasis on the communitarian ethic, with individual citizens giving back to our nation and our local communities.This is what President Kennedy meant to our country. And here at Stonehill, so close to where the President lived, make sure that his message resonates with each of you, especially on this day.

Bask in the glory of what you have accomplished, and get ready for tomorrow. Our nation has a vested stake in you. Your personal happiness and success, your determination to make out a life while helping your fellow citizens, benefit all of us. And benefit the United States of America.

Graduates of Stonehill College I salute you.