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I want to thank the ADL for this tremendous honor and especially the ADL staff for all of their hard work in pulling this amazing dinner together so smoothly and professionally. I want to thank Governor Quinn, Mayor Emanuel and President Preckwinkle for joining us tonight and for their kind and generous comments.
I also want to thank our clergy for their inspiring participation in tonight’s event. And finally thank all of you – especially my wife, daughters, and granddaughters – all my girls – and my extended family as well and my broader family of so many people who have honored me with their presence here tonight and with whom I’ve been privileged to work for over 50 years in so many different, exciting and challenging businesses.
I’m flattered and grateful that you are here for me and appreciative as well of your support for this most-deserving and important organization. I’m sure they could have found many more-deserving recipients, but I’m very happy they chose me and very proud to be here at this particular and tremendously exciting time in my life and in all of our lives. We’re on the cusp on changes of an impact and magnitude unlike any we’ve experienced in my lifetime and it’s going to be quite a ride.
They say that timing is everything and, as you probably know, I’ve just retired after 6 long, but extremely gratifying, years of building Tribeca Flashpoint Academy into the country’s leading digital media arts college and , far more importantly, of training and enabling many hundreds of talented graduates to be effective and compelling storytellers. And it’s the power and the accompanying responsibilities of storytelling that are the ties that bind my comments tonight to the mission and the ongoing efforts of the ADL.
Storytelling is the way we teach and the way we learn. The stories we tell others help us to share our knowledge, experience and wisdom. The stories we tell ourselves give us faith, courage, inspiration and the strength to bear on against seemingly insurmountable odds and obstacles. But the stories we tell our children and those they create and tell themselves are the most crucial of all because these stories can heighten a child’s horizons and broader their perspectives or, in the next instant, they can crush their creativity and condemn them to a bleak and soulless future.
Stories play a crucial role in all of our lives and they aren’t neutral. Stories are lessons embedded in language (whether written, spoken or seen – or all of the above) and they can bring us together or they can tear us apart. Sadly, in today’s socially-fueled and fired media and technology frenzy, we’ve done a great job of enabling and empowering enhanced expression – where our stories (for better or worse) spread instantly around the world, but we’ve done a lousy job (especially with anyone under 30) of explaining the ethical and moral responsibilities that come with the expanded power to persuade and the weight and impact which the stories we now tell can have on other lives.
In a recent song, Same Love, Macklemore talks about how readily we call each other hurtful names “behind the keys of a message board” and about the harm and the pain that these rote and thoughtless actions can cause. It’s just too easy, too insular, and far too separated from any concrete consequences today for people to launch hateful and deceitful speech and spiteful slanders with a few keystrokes on their computer or phone. We’re not going to completely stop this behavior any time soon or maybe ever, but there’s help available from the ADL in the form of education and encouragement (of the amazing kinds that you’re heard and seen tonight) and in the form of reporting, refereeing and record-keeping that helps us all better appreciate the scope and magnitude of these problems and the new stresses and strains that they are increasingly putting on the social fabric of our society.
Too many young people (present company excepted) in our frightfully permissive and over-parented society learn early on that they can do no wrong – that they’re all entitled and exceptional – top of the heap and talented beyond measure – and that even the worst actions are ultimately free of consequences or accountability. But it’s just not true and, frankly, it’s organizations like ADL that can help us tell the next several generations what’s right and what’s wrong. And if ADL wasn’t there to help explain, educate and enforce the right values and behaviors, I’m not really sure who would step into that particularly unwelcoming void.
Before I close, I want to say something about my newest job as the incoming CEO of 1871. I couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity especially because I have always viewed my career (as varied as it may seem from the outside) as a very coherent continuum where I have tried to move from strength to strength and – at the same time – to bring along with me all the experiences of the past (good and bad) and many of the key people who’ve made the prior successes possible. I’ve talked a lot about stories tonight and I see the job at 1871 as a chance to turn hundreds of stories into start-ups and to turn hundreds of ideas into invoices. It’s all about making realistic dreams come true and about the dedication, hard work and sacrifice that it takes to make that happen. In many ways, it’s similar to the way we helped the students here tonight stand before us and make their dreams become realities as well.
So I’m proud to be here tonight to support the important and ongoing work of the ADL; I’m totally blown away by the students’ stories that we saw and heard tonight (it does give me hope); I thank all of you for being here; and I promised to get everyone out of here and home by 9 o’clock. Especially me. So good night and God bless.