The following is the full transcript of U2 lead singer Bono’s 2004 commencement speech at the University of Pennsylvania. This event took place on May 17, 2004.
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Announcer: Ladies and gentlemen, it is my great pleasure to introduce to you a man whose unique voice contains strains of rock singer, poetic songwriter, social activist, and committed citizen. I give you this year our commencement speaker, Bono.
Paul David “Bono” Hewson – Singer-songwriter
Thank you. My name is Bono and I am a rock star.
Don’t get me too excited because I use four letter words when I get excited. And I am that guy. But I’d just like to say to the parents, your children are safe, your country is safe, the FCC has taught me a lesson and the only four letter word I’m going to use today is P-E-N-N. Come to think of it ‘Bono’ is a four-letter word. The whole business of obscenity — I don’t think there’s anything certainly more unseemly than the sight of a rock star in academic robes. It’s a bit like when people put their King Charles spaniels in little tartan sweats and hats. It’s not natural, and it doesn’t make the dog any smarter.
It’s true we were here before with U2 and I would like to thank them for giving me a great life, as well as you. I’ve got a great rock and roll band that normally stand at the back when I’m talking to thousands of people in a football stadium and they were here with me, I think it was seven years ago. Actually then I was with some other sartorial problems. I was wearing a mirror-ball suit at the time and I emerged from a 40-foot high revolving lemon. It was sort of a cross between a space ship, a disco and actually a plastic fruit.
I think I guess it was at that point when your Trustees decided to give me their highest honor. Doctor of Laws, wow! I know it’s an honor, and it really is an honor, but are you sure? Doctor of Law, I mean all I can think of is the laws I’ve broken. Yes. Laws of nature, laws of physics, laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and on a memorable night in the late seventies, I think it was Newton’s law of motion – sickness. No, it’s true, my resume reads like a rap sheet. I have to come clean; I’ve broken a lot of laws, and the ones I haven’t I’ve certainly thought about. I have sinned in thought, word, and deed. God forgive me. Actually God forgave me, but why would you? I’m here getting a doctorate, getting respectable, getting in the good graces of the powers that be, I hope it sends you students a powerful message: Crime does pay.
So I humbly accept the honor, keeping in mind the words of a British playwright, John Mortimer it was, “No brilliance is needed in the law. Nothing but common sense and relatively clean fingernails.” Well at best I’ve got one of the two of those.
But no, I never went to college, I’ve slept in some strange places, but the library wasn’t one of them. I studied rock and roll and I grew up in Dublin in the ’70s, music was an alarm bell for me, it woke me up to the world. I was 17 when I first saw The Clash, and it just sounded like revolution. The Clash were like, “This is a public service announcement — with guitars.” I was the kid in the crowd who took it at face value. Later I learned that a lot of the rebels were in it for the T-shirt. They’d wear the boots but they wouldn’t march. They’d smash bottles on their heads but they wouldn’t go to something more painful like a town hall meeting. By the way I felt like that myself until recently.