Its the time of year again for Graduation Speeches - I found this one given by writer Michael Lewis at Princeton a few Years ago:
I now live in Berkeley, California. A few years ago, just a few blocks from
my home, a pair of researchers in the Cal psychology department staged an
experiment. They began by grabbing students, as lab rats. Then they broke the
students into teams, segregated by sex. Three men, or three women, per team.
Then they put these teams of three into a room, and arbitrarily assigned one of
the three to act as leader. Then they gave them some complicated moral problem
to solve: say what should be done about academic cheating, or how to regulate
drinking on campus.
Exactly 30 minutes into the problem-solving the researchers interrupted each
group. They entered the room bearing a plate of cookies. Four cookies. The team
consisted of three people, but there were these four cookies. Every team member
obviously got one cookie, but that left a fourth cookie, just sitting there. It
should have been awkward. But it wasn’t. With incredible consistency the person
arbitrarily appointed leader of the group grabbed the fourth cookie, and ate
it. Not only ate it, but ate it with gusto: lips smacking, mouth open, drool at
the corners of their mouths. In the end all that was left of the extra cookie
were crumbs on the leader’s shirt.
This leader had performed no special task. He had no special virtue. He’d
been chosen at random, 30 minutes earlier. His status was nothing but luck. But
it still left him with the sense that the cookie should be his.
This experiment helps to explain Wall Street bonuses and CEO pay, and I’m
sure lots of other human behavior. But it also is relevant to new graduates of
Princeton University. In a general sort of way you have been appointed the
leader of the group. Your appointment may not be entirely arbitrary. But you
must sense its arbitrary aspect: you are the lucky few. Lucky in your parents,
lucky in your country, lucky that a place like Princeton exists that can take
in lucky people, introduce them to other lucky people, and increase their
chances of becoming even luckier. Lucky that you live in the richest society
the world has ever seen, in a time when no one actually expects you to
sacrifice your interests to anything.
All of you have been faced with the extra cookie. All of you will be faced
with many more of them. In time you will find it easy to assume that you
deserve the extra cookie. For all I know, you may. But you’ll be happier, and
the world will be better off, if you at least pretend that you don’t.