At the start an otherwise dreary academic year for many college freshmen because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Boston College -- a Jesuit Catholic university -- treated incoming freshmen to a pep talk from one of the biggest stars in American music.
“If you completed your assignment and read my book, you will know I got into rock ‘n’ roll for the sex, the drugs and the sex,” drawled Bruce Springsteen, winner of numerous awards, seller of a gazillion downloads, and the father of Boston College graduate Evan Springsteen, Class of 2012.
“Oh wait, that's the wrong speech. Let's start again.”
Springsteen, 70, delivered his remarks September 10 by livestream to the incoming class of freshmen, who, like millions of other among the Class of 2024, have not enjoyed the same initiations and orientations of most new freshmen. The COVID-19 pandemic has closed schools or limited the typical ways new students interact in person because of social distancing.
But the megastar quickly turned philosophical and fatherly, consoling them over their limitations and dubbing these post-GenZers the “coronial generation,” a play on the coronavirus.
“The life of the mind is a beautiful thing. Along with your spiritual life, it's the apotheosis of human experience,” he said. “You can waste it, you can half-ass your way through it, or you can absorb every minute of what you're experiencing, and come out on the other end: an individual of expanded vision, of intellectual vigor, of spiritual character and grace, fully prepared to meet the world, on its own terms.”
Despite mentioning a few times that he’d lapsed from formal religious views learned in eight years of Catholic school in central New Jersey, Springsteen often returned to mentions of faith and spirituality.
“My faith was something I thought I could walk away from after those eight formative years in Catholic school, but I was wrong. … My faith remained with me, informing my writing … incorporating biblical language. I consider myself primarily a spiritual songwriter,” he said. “I make music that ultimately wants to address the soul. I made my peace with my Catholic upbringing, for better or for worse. And I have had to nod to the fact that I wouldn't exactly be who I am without it.”
Freshman Danny Giunta of Massachusetts asked the mega-star how he avoided conformity in his youth and gained confidence as a fledgling artist.
“How did I maintain my confidence? Ah …” Springsteen pondered. “I am a rambling mess of towering insecurities, even to this day …”
But after a decade of performing in “bars, union halls, firehouses, fairs, weddings, high school dances [and] bar mitzvahs” -- before he signed his first recording contract that launched worldwide adoration and wealth -- he had learned and worked to gain confidence in his skills.
Money, which is a frequent theme in his work, “is great. But alone, it ain't gonna do it. Everybody wants to do well, but don't just do well, as they say, do good. Choose something that makes you happy and makes you want to get up and go to work in the morning and allows you to rest easy at night,” he said
When asked by BC student Heidi Yoon about the importance of friendship near the end of his 30-minute address, the singer-songwriter lit up.
“Imagine this: The people you're going to school with right now? Forty-five years later, you're working with those exact same people! Forty-five years later, those same people are still with you,” he said, laughing and shaking his head.
“You're gonna fight, you're gonna love, you're gonna argue, you're gonna hate this about the other guy, he's gonna hate this about you. But … we held the value of our friendship, higher than any of our personal grievances or disputes,” he said of the E Street band, assembled in 1972 and maintaining the same members for most of its duration.
Springsteen gave several minutes to encouraging his young viewers to participate in the upcoming presidential election, and their role in civic duty.
“Your country needs you: your vision, your energy and your love. Yes, your love,” he said. “Love your country, but never fail to be critical. When it comes to your country's living up to your and its ideals. Listen to the voices calling you from our founding documents and keep faith with them. And vote. Vote. Vote. Vote. Only half of all Americans vote. It's a sin.”
Jesuit education is notable for its intellectual rigor, critical thinking and volunteerism. There are numerous Jesuit educational institutions around the world, with 27 universities in the U.S., including Boston College and College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, Georgetown University in Washington, Loyola University of Maryland, New Orleans, Los Angeles and Chicago, Gonzaga University in the state of Washington, and Spring Hill College in Alabama.
“You are already wisened by this experience,” Springsteen said about the COVID pandemic and resultant restrictions and limitations.
“So appreciate the underappreciated: sporting events, getting together with your friends, concerts. Remember those?” Springsteen said, whose concert tickets to stadium performances sell out in minutes. “We will soon look to you for answers for a safer and better world.”