CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts Harvard's Class of 2001 made Bono an honorary member Wednesday following a commencement-week speech in which the U2 singer touted idealism and action for the new millennium.
"Rock music to me is rebel music," Bono said during Class Day. Outfitted in army green and a backward camouflage cap, he campaigned for help in his battle to curb Third World debt and HIV/AIDS in Africa. "I'm rebelling against my own indifference."
He mentioned those causes again later during U2's second of four sold-out concerts at Boston's FleetCenter, from where the band made a live televised appearance during the first NBA finals game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers.
At Harvard, however, Bono displayed some of the same charm and charisma that make him an effective frontman. As senior Joshua Goldston, 22, of Princeton, New Jersey, offered, "It makes this a little more exciting than hearing another economist."
Nothing against economists, though, as Bono cited personal support from Harvard economics professor Jeffrey Sachs and incoming president Lawrence Summers for his lobbying efforts.
"For every dollar of government aid we send to developing nations, nine dollars comes back to us in debt-service payments," Bono told a crowd of 12,000 in Harvard Yard. The 1,600 graduating seniors included Sarah Gore, who listened with her alumnus father, former Vice President Al Gore.
The singer spiced his talk with quips about how he and his lobbying partners crisscrossed the globe "like the Partridge Family on psychotropic drugs." Noting that he slept on economy flights with Sachs, Bono added, "Students should never sleep with their professors." And the star revealed that Pope John Paul II donned Bono's sunglasses for a never-released photograph. "The Vatican didn't have the same sense of humor as the pontiff," Bono said. "But he was cool."
Bono challenged students to reach their potential. "The culture of idealism is under siege by materialism, narcissism and all the other 'isms' of indifference," he said. Speculating on how future historians would treat us, he said, "We will remember two things: the Internet, probably, and the everyday holocaust that is Africa 25 million HIV positives who will leave behind 40 million AIDS orphans by 2010 in sub-Saharan Africa alone. It's the biggest health threat since the bubonic plague in Europe.
"Pop is often, sadly often, the oxygen of politics," he said. "Didn't John and Robert Kennedy come to Harvard? Isn't equality a son of a bitch to follow through on? Is 'love thy neighbor' in the global village so inconvenient? God writes us these lines and we have to sing them and take them to the top of the charts."
Bono closed by noting his awe at seeing Neil Armstrong walk on the moon, which made him believe America could do anything. "Nothing is impossible," he said. "Is that still true? Tell me that's true. And if it isn't, you of all people can make it true."
Then he approached the ropes to press the flesh with a few students before being whisked away. Harvard sophomore Joanna O'Leary, 19, of Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, deemed Bono's speech "excellent," adding, "I was surprised how eloquent he was. Harvard students are a hard crowd to reach. They've heard it all."