University of Pittsburgh
April 29, 2003

Former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Paul O'Neill Addresses Audience of 12,000 at Pitt's 2003 Commencement

Contact:  412-624-4147

PITTSBURGH—In his 2003 University of Pittsburgh commencement address before an audience of approximately 12,000 in the University of Pittsburgh's Petersen Events Center April 27, former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Paul O'Neill said that, "in the context of where we are today, we can win war with munitions, but we can only win the peace with ideas."

And, in illustrating "the concept of the theoretical limit," O'Neill spoke critically of the fact that "one in every 14 people in the United States who goes into an acute medical facility gets an infection they didn't bring with them." He then stated that it was "practically possible" to move "from one in 14 to zero in 14…We're going to do it here in Pittsburgh with 42 hospitals to demonstrate to the rest of the world this concept that we can reduce the cost of medical care in this country by 50 percent and simultaneously improve the outcomes."

O'Neill, who served as a member of the Pitt Board of Trustees from March 1988 to June 1991, was two months ago appointed a University director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) and a member of the Executive Committee of the UPMC Board.

This year marks the first time commencement was held in the Petersen Events Center.

A special advisor since March to The Blackstone Group, a private investment bank with offices in New York and London, O'Neill was secretary of the U.S. Treasury from January 2001 to December 2002. Prior to serving the Bush administration, he was chief executive officer of Alcoa from June 1987 to May 1999 and chair of its board from 1987 until his retirement from that position in January 2001. Before joining Alcoa, O'Neill was president of International Paper Company from 1985 to 1987; he was vice president of that company from 1977 to 1985.

O'Neill earned the Bachelor of Arts degree in economics at Fresno State College and the Master of Public Administration degree at Indiana University. O'Neill and his wife, Nancy, have four children and 12 grandchildren. He and his wife live in Pittsburgh.


Transcript of Former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury

Paul O'Neill's Address for the

University of Pittsburgh's

2003 Commencement

At the University of Pittsburgh Petersen Events Center

April 27, 2003

First, let me say thank you for your patience. This is really your day, and let me say to each of you individually, congratulations for your achievement….and to the parents and the friends and the ball throwers [Editor's note: This is in reference to a beach ball a few graduating students had tossed to one another as Mr. O'Neill was walking to the podium.]

You know, I was going to save this for the end, but with the ball, let me begin with it. One of the messages I would give you is this: Have fun in your life!

Truly, I'm tempted to remembering 43 years ago when I was a newly minted college graduate to tell you all the things that I've learned over 43 years, but it would take a little longer than 10 minutes, because I have a lot of scar tissue from learning over the last 43 years.

But there are some things that I think are universal truths that may be worth sharing, which, my guess is, you will not remember; I've been in my lifetime through lots of graduations and at best I can tell you what the weather was like. I hope you will remember this day as a singularly wonderful Pittsburgh sunny day that we cherish so much here as Pittsburghers. But on the off- chance that you will remember something beyond the sunny day, let me tell you things that are meaningful to me. The Chancellor [University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg] in fact said one of them quite correctly, which I believe from traveling around the world for the last 43 years—and not just traveling around the world but working with people in virtually every country in the world—I believe and I think I could demonstrate it to you: that human beings everywhere have the potential to succeed greatly—every human being. And when I've traveled around the world where I find people so far away from what we have already demonstrated is possible, it gives me a sense of conviction about the need to move with much greater speed than we have moved so far as a world civilization in achieving what we know is possible for every human being.

You know, I have thought, to put us in the context of where we are today, we can win war with munitions but we can only win the peace with ideas. And it's why you have such an important responsibility going forward, whatever you may choose to do, either here in Pittsburgh or wherever else life may take you. You're now empowered, as a consequence of the investment you've made, with ideas and a capacity to learn, and I hope you also feel an obligation to make a difference.

I'll tell you an idea that I heard, I think maybe for the first time, when I was 25 years old, that since then every day has been a thought that I wake up with that keeps me moving even when I would rather stay in bed for a little while longer, it's a—I'm going to paraphrase a quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., who once said, it's necessary to be involved in the action and passion of your time, lest you to be judged never to have lived at all. There's a challenge!

Now if it's true that every human being has the potential to succeed greatly, the question I ask myself is, "Why haven't we gotten there?" And I would offer you this diagnosis: Again the Chancellor used my words in saying that I believe with leadership everything is possible. And without leadership nothing is possible.

Now…what do I mean by leadership? I mean this: I mean two things a leader needs to bring. One is a stable system so that people can have some certainty in their lives; and for our country, we take some of these things for granted. It's not certain in other places around the world that there is leadership that provides the rule of law and enforceable contracts and an everyday attack on corruption. Those are three things that are absolutely essential for orderly progress in any society, including our own.

And the second thing I think is really important as a leadership quality, and this is something that is for you, not just people who are famous or elected to office. It is leadership, having the vision of what could be, not what has been, but what could be, and daring greatly.

And now I will try to teach you one idea that I have found hugely important in my own life and how I think about things. It's a concept called the concept of the theoretical limit. And what I mean by that, to put it into some context, is this: that in health and medical care, to use an area that I know something about and care a lot about, a couple of facts. One in every 14 people in the United States who goes into an acute medical facility gets an infection they didn't bring with them….one in 14. We have enough science and knowledge and understanding of process that at the theoretical limit no one should get an infection when they go into a hospital—maybe they bring one with them, but we should not give them one when they come. Why is it important? Because human beings tend not to be able to concentrate on other things if they don't have their health. And not think about the implications in our society of having people stay in the hospital longer with more complications because we gave them something they didn't want and didn't need to have. And you begin to develop the possibilities for what the human mind can do in moving from one in 14 to zero in 14, and if I had a little bit more time I would risk the chance of teaching you how this is not only theoretically possible but is practically possible, and we're going to do it here in Pittsburgh with 42 hospitals to demonstrate to the rest of the world this concept that we can reduce the cost of health and medical care in this country by 50 percent and simultaneously improve the outcomes.

I think I'll just tell you one more set of ideas, which I have found really important every place I've been in the world, and qualities that I've introduced and tried to live by in the organizations that I've been privileged to have a leadership position in, including in the U.S. Treasury. I believe this. In great organizations, the people in those organizations can answer yes to three questions every day without any reservation. Here are the three questions. "Are you treated with decency and respect every day by everyone you encounter?" The second question is this: "Are you given the things you need, mechanical equipment, tools, ideas, and training, in order to make a contribution to the organization—here's the important part—a contribution that gives meaning to your life, not to the institution, but that gives meaning to your life?" And the third question in a great organization people can say yes to with no reservation is, "Did someone notice you did it?"

With those three ideas and with leadership, I do believe that we can accomplish whatever we can imagine, and, as people now of attainment and educational tools, let me give you the obligation of creating organizations even if you are an individual atom in your first encounter with the working world, that you create the conditions so that the people that encounter you can say yes to those three questions every day, and then you will have succeeded greatly and others with you. Thank you very much.

* * *


Contact: David R. Eltz


University of Pittsburgh Celebrates First Commencement

At Petersen Events Center

PITTSBURGH—University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg welcomed at 1 p.m. today approximately 12,000 faculty, staff, graduating members of the Class of 2003, and invited guests, family, and friends attending the University's 2003 Commencement at the Petersen Events Center.

The ceremony, held for the first time in the Petersen Events Center, opened with Chief University Marshal James H. Cassing, professor of economics and president of the University Senate, leading the procession of the faculty, staff, Council of Deans, trustees, administrative officers, and graduating class members in full academic regalia.

Music was provided by the 65-piece University of Pittsburgh Symphonic Band, conducted by Pitt Director of Bands Jack R. Anderson.

Former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Paul O'Neill delivered the commencement address, titled "New Directions: The Opportunity Ahead." O'Neill is the former president and CEO of Alcoa and current special advisor since March to The Blackstone Group, a private investment bank with offices in New York and London. O'Neill also is a University director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Board of Directors.

Before giving his speech, O'Neill had conferred upon him by Chancellor Nordenberg Pitt's Honorary Doctor of Public Service degree. Board of Trustees Chair William S. Dietrich II assisted in awarding the honorary degree.

After the awarding of diplomas by Nordenberg, Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor James V. Maher, and the deans of the schools and colleges, Cynthia Kinnan spoke on behalf of the graduating class. Kinnan, of Golden, Colo., is a 2003 Emma W. Locke Award winner and one of 40 Marshall Scholarship winners nationwide for 2003. Kinnan, who plans to use her Marshall Scholarship to earn a Master of Science degree in global market economics at the London School of Economics, earned the Bachelor of Science degree in economics and the Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics.

She was followed in the ceremony by Eva Tansky Blum (LAW '73, CAS '70), president of the University of Pittsburgh Alumni Association, who welcomed the graduates as Pitt's newest alumni.

In all, Pitt conferred approximately 6,800 undergraduate, graduate, and professional degrees this year to students at the main campus in Oakland and more than 1,000 additional undergraduate degrees to students from the four regional campuses, in Bradford, Greensburg, Johnstown, and Titusville, all of which hold their own commencement ceremonies.

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