IU Honors His Excellency Michael D. Higgins, President of Ireland and Former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neill

Spring Commencement Dinner
Presidents Hall
Franklin Hall
IU Bloomington
Bloomington, Indiana
May 9, 2014

Welcome and Toast

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.

Thank you all for joining us for this dinner in honor of our esteemed guests, Michael D. Higgins, who will deliver tomorrow’s Commencement address to the IU Bloomington undergraduate Class of 2014, and Paul O’Neill, who delivered a superb address this afternoon at the Commencement ceremony for our master’s and doctoral students.

We are truly proud to count both of them among Indiana University’s most distinguished alumni.

We will have more formal introductions of President Higgins and Secretary O’Neill a little later in the evening.

Now would you please join me in raising your glasses to the remarkable and varied accomplishments of our distinguished guests?

Both of our honorees demonstrate the extraordinary range of possibilities, positive change, and progress that can stem from a world-class education and a deep commitment to public service.

To our distinguished honorees!

Please enjoy your meal.

Welcome And Acknowledgements

Good evening, and thank you again for joining us tonight.

I would like to take a moment to recognize a number of the many distinguished guests who have joined us this evening.

First, would you join me in welcoming Ambassador Anne Anderson, the 17th Ambassador of Ireland to the United States.

I am also very pleased to welcome Aidan Cronin, the Consul-General of Ireland in Chicago. Consul-General Cronin has served in Irish embassies around the world, including the embassy in Canberra, Australia, a city in which I studied, worked, and lived for many years. Would you help me welcome him?

I also want to extend a welcome, on behalf of Indiana University, to the entire delegation of representatives from Ireland.

I am also very pleased to welcome a number of members of the IU Board of Trustees. I will ask them to stand as I introduce them, and I ask that you hold your applause until all have been introduced. With us are Tom Reilly, chair of the Board of Trustees; Bill Cast, and his wife, Anita; Dr. Phil Eskew; Janice Farlow, our Student Trustee; Pat Shoulders; and former Ambassador Randy Tobias. Please join me in welcoming our Trustees.

I am also very pleased to welcome State Senator Brandt Hershman, who represents District 7 in the Indiana Senate, and who serves as the Senate Majority Whip.

Would you help me welcome him?

I also want to introduce two graduating seniors who will deliver the student Commencement speeches tomorrow: Chris Kauffman and Parker Mantell. Chris graduates tomorrow with a degree in finance and a minor in psychology. He has served as a vice president of the IU Student Association; as a three-year member of the Board of Aeons, a student group that advises me; and he received the Herman B Wells Distinguished Senior Award this year. And Parker graduates tomorrow with a degree in political science, a minor in public management, and a certificate from the Political and Civic Engagement program. He has served as an intern for Eric Cantor, Marco Rubio, and Chris Christie.

Please join me in welcoming Chris and Parker.

Introducing President Michael D. Higgins

Our first distinguished guest, His Excellency Michael D. Higgins—known universally and affectionately as “Michael D.”—is the ninth president of Ireland.

A renowned poet and writer; a leading public intellectual and academic; a tireless supporter of the arts; a champion of Irish culture; a supporter of Gaelic football and hurling; and a passionate advocate for human rights, justice, and equality, President Higgins has devoted his entire life to public service in Ireland.

Born into humble circumstances in Limerick, and raised in County Clare, President Higgins was a factory worker and a clerk before becoming the first in his family to go to university.

He studied at University College Galway—where he served as president of the Students’ Union—and at Manchester University before coming to IU Bloomington, where he earned a Master of Arts degree in sociology in 1967.

At IU, he worked with other sociology students on what was then known as the Indianapolis Area Project, in which students paired with professional interviewers to talk to husbands and wives in Indianapolis about their happiness with a traditional family structure. It is also quite likely that he spent a great deal of time in this very room—as did Paul O’Neill in the years immediately prior—as this was then the main reading room of the IU library. And just about 150 yards from here, at Nick’s English Hut, President Higgins has said that he was introduced to the concept of “a pitcher of beer!”

A few years later, in 1969, he met his future wife, actress Sabina Coyne. They were married in 1974 and have four children.

President Higgins has written powerfully about the ability of education to improve people’s lives, and he has, throughout his life, demonstrated a strong commitment to education. He served as a visiting professor at the Southern Illinois University, and was, for many years, a highly regarded lecturer in Sociology and Political Science at University College Galway, now known as the National University of Ireland, Galway.

As a young academic, he and his colleagues travelled to towns and villages throughout the west of Ireland to provide outreach courses, with the aim of ensuring that quality education was accessible to all.

The poverty and injustice he witnessed during these travels and during his early life led him to more direct political involvement, where—in his service at every level of public life in Ireland—he has been a tireless advocate for real social and economic change.

He served for nearly two decades as a member of the Galway County Council, and was twice elected mayor of Galway.

He served as a member of the Seanad, the upper house of the Irish legislature for nine years, and as a member of the Dáil, the lower but principal chamber of the legislature, for a total of 25 years. President Higgins is the first President of Ireland to have served in both houses of the Irish parliament, known as the Oireachtas.

During his service as a Member of Parliament, The New York Times called him  "one of the most prominent and articulate figures" in Ireland.1

He served as the Labour Party’s spokesperson for foreign affairs in the parliament and was a founding member of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs.

From 1993 to 1997, he served as Ireland’s first Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, the country’s regions in which Irish is the predominant language.

When the internationally renowned Irish filmmaker, Neil Jordan, received the 1993 Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for his film, The Crying Game, then-Minister Higgins used the occasion to re-establish the Irish Film Board, which had been dormant since the mid-80s.

As film scholar Martin McLoone wrote, “the reconstitution of the Film Board… marked a decisive turning point for indigenous filmmaking in Ireland. Film as an art form finally came in from the critical and institutional cold and entered the mainstream of Irish cultural life.”2

His achievements as culture minister also included establishing the Irish language television channel TG4, investing in new public museums, revitalizing Ireland’s waterways, and overturning the controversial section of the Broadcasting Act that forbade the voices of Sinn Fein members to air live on radio and TV.

He was also elected president of the European Council of Culture Ministers.

He served as President of the Labour Party from 2003 until his election as President of Ireland in 2011.

As the Irish Independent wrote, "the 'D' in Michael D. Higgins could stand for 'Different'. Our current president," wrote reporter Lise Hand, "is quite a contrast to his predecessors on many levels—not least in his active engagement with the media and his willingness to wade into various issues and controversies relating to his country."3

Just over a year ago, in an address to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, President Higgins strongly criticized the response of European governments to the economic crisis, warning that austerity measures could lead to what he called a "crisis of legitimacy"4 for the European Union.

Last month, during his historic State Visit to Britain, the first ever by an Irish Head of State, President Higgins received a warm ceremonial welcome—unimaginable only a generation ago—at Windsor Castle by Queen Elizabeth II.

He has published two collections of essays, four collections of poetry, and he served for a decade as a regular columnist for Hot Press, a music and politics magazine, where his writing engaged a young audience in the social issues of the day.

Would you join me in welcoming His Excellency, the ninth President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins.

President Higgins, would you like to say a few words?

Introducing Paul O’Neill

Our next distinguished guest, Paul O'Neill, delivered what was truly a superb address this afternoon at our Graduate Commencement ceremony.

Bloomberg Businessweek has called him "an independent thinker with a pragmatic bent, ... an analytic frame of mind that is comfortable with complex data, (and) a non-ideological view of the role of government in economic growth."5

He is also a Midwesterner, having been born in St. Louis, Missouri. Because his father served in the Air Force, much of Secretary O’Neill’s childhood was spent shuttling around military bases. He attended high school in Anchorage, Alaska, where he met and married his high school sweetheart, Nancy, to whom he has been married for 58 years. They have four children, 12 grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren.

He earned his Master of Public Affairs degree at IU in 1966 while a fellow in the National Institute of Public Affairs program, a precursor to our School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He credits the late professor Lynton Keith Caldwell, a prominent early SPEA faculty member, as a pivotal influence his career.

And what an extraordinary career it has been.

Early in his career, Secretary O’Neill was an engineer for Morrison-Knudsen in Anchorage.   His public service began when he worked with the Veterans Administration, where he served as a computer systems analyst.

In 1967, just after earning his IU degree, he joined the staff of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, where he would serve for a decade, eventually serving as deputy director during the administration of President Gerald Ford.

He then moved back into the private sector, serving as vice president and then president of International Paper in New York City.

In the late 1980s, Secretary O’Neill declined an offer from President George H. W. Bush to serve as Secretary of Defense. He was subsequently appointed by George H. W. Bush to chair an advisory group on education. Under Secretary O’Neill’s leadership, the advisory group made important recommendations concerning national standards and unified testing standards.

In 1987, Secretary O’Neill became chairman and chief executive officer of Alcoa, the major aluminum production company with headquarters in New York City and an operational base in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

As BusinessWeek wrote: “when Paul O'Neill arrived at Alcoa, it was just another wheezing industrial giant with an unremarkable financial record and a workforce that was biding its time. …O'Neill's emphasis on safety fundamentally altered Alcoa's culture. Productivity soon began rising,” the article continues,” with a timely assist from the high-tech tools O'Neill also introduced, and then so did the financial tallies.”6

Secretary O’Neill has also been widely praised for his practicality and his ability to take a balanced view. In 1993, when Russia began dumping aluminum on the world markets, depressing prices and potentially driving foreign competitors out of business, Secretary O’Neill brokered an agreement between Russian and American producers—led by Alcoa—to cut back production and shutter facilities so a price-depressing worldwide aluminum glut could be sold off gradually. The agreement was a principled solution that made sense for all parties, and was a major reason for Alcoa's subsequent return to profitability.

By deciding to locate Alcoa's new headquarters right on the Allegheny River, Secretary O’Neill helped the city of Pittsburgh revitalize its run-down river neighborhood. The magnificent Alcoa Corporate Center received much praise and many awards for its innovative architecture. The new space emphasized teamwork and flexibility. Secretary O’Neill worked in a cubicle like everyone else, held meetings in Alcoa’s kitchen, and could often be found in line in the cafeteria during lunch.7

Secretary O’Neill was also one of the first major company CEOs to embrace the Internet. As early as 1991, he required that all Alcoa facilities be connected so employees could track the company’s progress. He also leveraged computing power to increase the speed of production and delivery cycles.

As The New York Times wrote of him in 2000: “Mr. O'Neill is also a bit of a maverick. He has taken positions on global warming, energy taxes, education, Social Security and health care that are decidedly nonpartisan...”8

In 2001, President George W. Bush appointed him as Secretary of the Treasury.

As was mentioned at this afternoon’s Commencement ceremony, he led the treasury department at the time of the horrific attacks of September 11th, 2001 and during the downturn in economic growth that followed. Secretary O’Neill helped to restore confidence by vowing to eliminate the funding source of terrorist attacks. He mobilized resources to fight terrorist financing, working with Middle Eastern countries to stop money laundering and fraud.

An outspoken member of the Bush administration, Secretary O’Neill’s tenure was chronicled in Ron Suskind’s book, The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O’Neill.

As many of you may know, Secretary O’Neill has remained closely connected to IU’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He finds time to visit the campus each year to speak to our students. And earlier this year, Secretary O’Neill made an extraordinarily generous gift of $3 million to SPEA, the largest private donation in the school’s history. His generous gift will support the development of the next generation of public sector leaders.

Would you please join me in expressing Indiana University’s deepest gratitude for his generosity and in welcoming the former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury and one of the most esteemed and innovative business leaders of the last quarter-century, Paul O’Neill.

Secretary O’Neill, would you like to say a few words?


Would you all join me once again in expressing our thanks to our distinguished guests, Commencement speakers, and honorary degree recipients: President Michael D. Higgins and Paul O’Neill.Thank you all for coming this evening, and I look forward to seeing you at tomorrow’s undergraduate Commencement ceremony.

Source Notes

  1. James F. Clarity, “In Irish Debate, a Distinctly Contrary Voice,” The New York Times, June 9, 1992, 15., Web, Accessed May 5, 2014, URL: http://www.nytimes.com/1992/06/09/world/in-irish-debate-a-distinctly-contrary-voice.html

  2. Martin McLoone, “Moving Images: Cinema and the Re-imagining of Ireland,” in Andrew Higgins Wyndham (ed.) Re-imagining Ireland, (University of Virginia Press, 2006), 147-148

  3. Lise Hand, “Theatrically High-brow, But a Fierce Defender of Causes He Believes In,” Irish Independent, July 24, 2013, edition 3., Web, Accessed May 5, 2014, URL: http://www.independent.ie/irish-news/politics/lise-hand-theatrically-highbrow-but-a-fierce-defender-of-causes-he-believes-in-29443689.html

  4. Michael D. Higgins, “Towards a European Union of the Citizens’ European Parliament,” delivered April 17, 2013, European Parliament, Strasbourg. Web. Accessed May 6, 2014, URL: http://www.president.ie/speeches/address-by-president-michael-d-higgins-towards-a-european-union-of-the-citizens-european-parliament-strasbourg-wednesday-17th-april-2013-2/

  5. Editorial, “O’Neill: Playbook for a Problem Solver,” Bloomberg BusinessWeek, February 4, 2001, Web, Accessed May 5, 2014, URL: http://www.businessweek.com/stories/2001-02-04/oneill-playbook-for-a-problem-solver

  6. Michael Arndt, “How O’Neill Got Alcoa Shining,” BusinessWeek, February 5, 2001, Web, Accessed May 5, 2014, URL: http://www.businessweek.com/2001/01_06/b3718006.htm

  7. Michael Arndt, “How O’Neill Got Alcoa Shining,” BusinessWeek, February 5, 2001, Web, Accessed May 5, 2014, URL: http://www.businessweek.com/2001/01_06/b3718006.htm

  8. Joseph Kahn, Floyd Norris, “Man in the News: Industrialist With a Twist; Paul Henry O’Neill,” The New York Times, December 21, 2000, Web, Accessed May 5, 2014, URL:http://www.nytimes.com/2000/12/21/us/43rd-president-treasury-department-man-industrialist-with-twist-paul-henry-o.html