WATERVILLE — Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Sunday called on Colby College’s Class of 2012 to resolve injustices and change the world through international cooperation.
In his address on the private liberal arts college campus in Waterville, Blair challenged the 465 Colby graduates to help the disadvantaged in their own country and abroad.
A small group of war protesters briefly disrupted Blair’s speech, with police removing three protesters who began shouting from campus and arresting a Bangor man. A few other people with anti-war signs stood silently and stayed for the duration of Blair’s address, which didn’t acknowledge the protesters.
He told graduates they should pursue “noble causes,” such as saving the millions of people in Africa who continue to die from preventable diseases.
“Compassion is as important as ambition. So don’t just choose a career, choose a cause. There are many to choose from. … The noble causes–believe me they’re there amongst all the drudgery and self obsession of human existence–find them and save a bit of yourselves for them. It’s worth it,” Blair said.
He also touched on inequities in the United States, saying there are people who haven’t been given the same opportunities as the Colby graduates.
Those who are given the tools to be leaders have a responsibility to address these wrongs, Blair told graduates. He said “sick people who don’t get health care” are one example of the people whose lives graduates should strive to better.
To achieve these goals, graduates must never stop learning and always remain humble, Blair said. He added the tip is something he learned during his decade as prime minister that ended in 2007, having been longest-serving leader of Britian’s Labour Party.
Blair recalled meeting President Nelson Mandela during the height of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, saying the encounter taught him the importance of humility.
Blair described Mandela as a modest man despite his stature. He told graduates to aspire to this approach, adding, “the greatest people I’ve met in life are humble.”
Blair drew frequent laughs from the crowd by sharing the embarrassing moments that he says also helped remind him of this important lesson.
He recalled tripping over a carpet during the ceremony of kissing hands, where the incoming prime minister meets the queen at Buckingham Palace. Instead of gently brushing the queen’s ring, he “enveloped the queen’s hand,” Blair told the Colby crowd.
Blair may have benefited, however, from the humorous tone set by the previous speaker who warmed up the audience sitting beneath a clear blue sky on the Miller Library lawn.
Samuel C. Deeran, the Colby Class of 2012 speaker, opened his address by welcoming his fellow graduates to the “Comedy Central roast of Tony Blair.”
Deeran, of Falmouth, said that it must have been a mistake that he was opening for a prime minister. And he joked that he wanted some of the same perks, saying he deserved a private jet, a fluffer-nutter sandwich and “a personal play date with George W. Bush.”
Deeran went onto say he didn’t appreciate the value of a Colby education until he dropped out his junior year. He moved to Los Angeles to make it as a standup comic and quickly learned the harsh lessons of the real world.
He told his fellow graduates they shouldn’t listen to the people saying the poor economy will defeat this generation. Instead of fearing the real world, they should find ways to adapt the system to their own dreams, he said.
“The question to you the Class of 2012 is what will you do to make it real,” he said.
Before leaving the podium, Deeran shook Blair’s hand and they both smiled.
Blair started his own speech by complimenting Deeran, saying he would make a great politician with his ability to cut people down to size. And Blair also agreed with Deeran’s take on the graduates path to success.
“Sam is right. Don’t be afraid to fail, we all do, be afraid of not trying because it’s a lot worse,” he said.
According to a release from Waterville Police Department, about six protesters were standing on Colby lawn behind a roped-off area for the hundreds of people in the graduation seating.
Campus security told protesters they were on private property and could stay as long as they didn’t disrupt the ceremony, the release states.
Among the signs held up by protesters, some read “Blair is a war criminal” and “Obama drones out.” Several protesters held up a banner that read “Bring our War $$ Home.org,” promoting an online anti-war movement. As Blair was introduced by Colby officials, some of the war protesters began shouting.
Police said they removed three protesters who started shouting from campus and allowed other protesters to remain there. A short time later, another man, Lawrence Reichard, started shouting and police started to take him away, according to the police department’s release.
As they led Reichard away he was warned by police to stop disrupting the ceremony, the release noted, adding he kept yelling, was arrested and taken to the police station downtown.
Reichard, 53, of 32 Hayward St., Bangor, was charged with disorderly conduct and released later in the day after posting a $250 unsecured bail, according to police. He will appear in Waterville District Court on Aug. 21 at 1 p.m.
David F. Robinson — 861-9287
2012 honorary degree recipients:
David E. Shaw, managing director of Black Point Group and founder of IDEXX Laboratories; Ralph J. Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences and chair of the National Research Council; Tonya Gonnella Frichner, president and founder of the American Indian Law Alliance; Robert D. Putnam, Malkin Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University; and National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master and 2011 Guggenheim Fellow Randy Weston.
Source: Colby College