Author Michael Lewis ’82 drew on his own experiences and the content of his books to urge the Class of 2012 to understand the role that luck has played in their successes at the University’s 265th Baccalaureate ceremony held on Sunday afternoon in the University Chapel.
President Shirley Tilghman praised Lewis’ writing abilities in her introduction of the speaker. She also spoke of his ability to capture his audiences’ attention with “that rare combo of enlightening and entertaining.”
“[Lewis] could be welcomed in many ways: as an author, a journalist, a satirist or a moralist,” she said. “I prefer to think of him as a master storyteller.”
Lewis is the author of multiple top-selling books such as “Moneyball,” “The Blindside: Evolution of a Game” — both of which have been adapted into major motion pictures — and most recently “The Big Short,” detailing the origins of the recent financial crisis. Lewis’ first book, “Liar’s Poker,” published in 1989, touches on the author’s education at Princeton — which Lewis discussed at Baccalaureate on Sunday — and his early years working on Wall Street. Lewis is also a contributing editor for Vanity Fair magazine.
An art history major at Princeton, Lewis began his remarks with memories of his own Baccalaureate and Commencement.
“Thirty years ago, I sat where you sit. Some older person must have shared life wisdom ... I don’t remember a word of it,” he said. “I don’t even remember who it was. You won’t remember either.”
Lewis also joked about his choice of major. He said that choice was “even then, an act of insanity.”
“Yet, I still wound up rich and famous,” he joked.
Despite his choice to major in art history, Lewis said he credited his time at the University and his senior thesis in the department for inspiring him to follow his intellectual passions and to learn how to love writing. Though he said he loved writing his thesis, his adviser told him he should never try to make a living from writing.
“When I handed in my senior thesis, I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I wanted to write senior theses — or at least books,” he said.
However, Lewis did not immediately pursue a writing career after graduation. Instead, he began work on Wall Street at Salomon Brothers, an investment firm. But Lewis said he soon realized he was making a lot of money to just pretend that he knew how money worked.
It was this experience in finance that made him realize he wanted to write his first book, “Liar’s Poker,” a look at Wall Street in the 1980s from the inside. Though Lewis said his friends and family did not agree with his decision to pursue writing, Lewis knew he had to follow his passion.
“I knew what intellectual passion felt like because I felt it at Princeton. I left Salomon Brothers because I wanted to feel it again,” he said. “If I had waited 10 years until I was 36 years old, I would have forgotten the feeling.”
Lewis then began to discuss his book “Moneyball,” published in 2003, which looks at how certain disadvantaged baseball teams like the Oakland A’s can compete with significantly better-funded teams like the New York Yankees. He said that the difference between the two teams was that Oakland understood the role that luck played in the success of baseball players.
“As they age and succeed, people believe their success was inevitable,” he said. “But if a professional athlete can be disvalued, who can’t be?”
But it wasn’t just baseball players that get lucky; Lewis noted that the graduates had gotten lucky as well.
“Right now, you all have been appointed the leaders. You are the lucky few,” he said addressing the graduates. “You are lucky that a place like Princeton exists and introduces you to the other lucky people.”
However, he also noted that this luck and success comes with an obligation to pay it forward to those who were not as lucky, finishing his remarks by invoking the University’s unofficial motto, “In the nation’s service and the service of all nations.”
Meanwhile, outside simulcasts where friends and family of the Class of 2012 sat to watch the service were evacuated during Tilghman’s welcome address. Thunder, lightning and rain forced a full crowd to run to McCosh 50 to watch the rest of the service on simulcast. The rain cleared just in time for the senior class to recess out of the Chapel.
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2012/06/04/31020/