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Calls to Action

Bob Wright Gives Commencement Address at Fairfield Country Day School

June 12, 2013

Autism Speaks Co-founder Bob Wright delivered the commencement address at Fairfield Country Day School in Fairfield, Conn. on Wedneday, June 12.

You can watch the video below:


Wright's remarks as prepared are below.


June 12, 2013

Good Morning. Headmaster, Members of the Board of Trustees, Members of the Faculty and Administration, Mrs. Dupont, Family, Friends and of course, wonderful graduates— Class of 2013 of the Fairfield Country Day School, thank you for inviting us.

Suzanne and I have been members of the Fairfield community for nearly 30 years. It is truly an honor and a privilege to be a part of such a momentous occasion in such a beautiful area of the country.  

In recent years we’ve had the opportunity to address college graduates at St. John’s University in New York, and Fairfield University, in our own backyard, but as I look out at your fresh, eager faces and dapper dress attire I know – first hand-- this is where the party is!   Our son Christopher sat in your esteemed chairs back in 1987. Suzanne and I were so proud of him … so grateful for his time here.

Taught by the best educators, equipped with cutting edge technology, cultured in the arts and music, schooled in the outdoors and sports, learned in every subject-- including how to take the spotlight and the podium-- your education at Fairfield Country Day School is priceless.  Fueled with dreams and a lot of foresight, your parents started you on this journey.  I want to you to take a moment --spot them in the crowd now and give them a round of applause for their sacrifice.

Your parents knew way back when you were still using crayons that your future is our future and the pillars of this school would set you on the right path…even if you are currently doing the “Harlem Shake” down that path at the moment!

Albert Einstein once said “I speak to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university.”    That tenet of respect has served me so well in my 40 years of business, law and communications.  I know you will never lose sight of the value of another human being whether you are dealing with kings, CEO’s, judges, attorneys, doctors, farmers—even the person pumping your gas because respect for others has been a part of your being since you set foot on this campus.  

Along with respect – there’s hard work.  You did not get in those seats without a good deal of sweat and maybe a few late nights of studying.     One of your former classmates called scholarship “going the extra mile-- in the classroom or out.”   Our world is an increasingly complicated place and that kind of scholarship will be required of you on a regular basis.  It’s also directly linked to integrity. 

It is not enough to simply respect and treat others equally—but to live – yes live a life of integrity.  24/7.    Oprah-- everyone’s favorite talk-show host even though she never worked for me at NBC—says, “real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody’s going to know whether you did it or not.”   I would add—real integrity is a way of being.    And it is critical in this era of hyper-communication.

When I was Chairman and CEO of NBC Universal and Vice Chairman of GE—just a few short years ago, we as a nation had not yet full immersed ourselves in the “i-Land” or Facebook-land…or even YouTube-land.   We were still using remote controls and watching TV—on TV.   But the world is a different place now.  Look around.  In Starbucks, in Whole Foods.  Rexies Candies. Sunny Daes.  Just in town on the street multi-tasking has a new dimension.   Texting, talking, shopping, Instagramming AND walking—we are communicating.   Yet while we can “dial up” anyone on any continent, we are also having a crisis of communication.   In the middle of this world of instant communication is a growing group of boys and girls – who struggle to communicate even the simplest of things-- every minute of every day because of autism. 

Many of you know our lives changed drastically when our first grandson, Christian, was diagnosed with the complex developmental brain disorder in 2004.  You could say the worlds of my daughter Katie and my wife Suzanne stopped spinning for a while.  

At that point we could have put our heads in the sand, or dug in our heels and just focused on helping Katie, her husband, Andreas, and Christian.  But I went to Chaminade-- a boy’s high school not that much different from this one.  There we learned about stability—strength—becoming agents of change --and faithfulness to congregation.  The autism community clearly was –and still is-- our congregation now.   And as we looked around and saw the families in crisis and a nation all but asleep, we knew acting like we were in our own bubble was out.

My years at Holy Cross College added to my world view.  We were taught to question our obligations to one another and our special responsibility to the poor or powerless.   And that brings us back to integrity doesn’t it?   Remember the movie “Pay it Forward?”  Suzanne and I decided to pay it forward—take the generous donation of a longtime friend and start Autism Speaks.

We’re beginning to be known as the “folks in blue.” Imagine this, on April 2, World Autism Awareness Day, as part of our Light It Up Blue campaign, we lit up more than 8,400 buildings around the world. 8,400!   They were on all seven continents in 101 countries—and included the Halley-6 Research Station on Antarctica, the London Eye, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Niagara Falls and the George Washington Bridge in New York!

Maybe next year we can get you to light up whole neighborhoods -- like during the holidays!  I know you have the drive.  It warmed the hearts of our whole Autism Speaks family to hear you -- the student body of Fairfield Country Day School--so graciously all dressed in blue.  Through all of these efforts, we are educating millions of people daily.  

The Centers for Disease Control says 1 in 88 children in the US have Autism Spectrum Disorder.  A recent government study found it may be as prevalent as 1 in 50 school-age children.  An Autism Speaks funded study says it’s 1 in 38 in South Korea.    Here in the Nutmeg state, almost 36,000 people are living with autism—and that number changes daily.   Astonishing numbers.

We are the world’s leading autism science and advocacy organization with 211 full-time employees. We have raised more than $424 million, committed more than $195 million dollars to research, have been instrumental in the passage of autism insurance reform laws in 33 states and the federal Combat Autism Acts of 2006 and 2011.   Recently we’ve collaborated with the Simons Foundation to create the “Autism Brain-Net” and advance research of actual brain tissue.  We’re helping pediatricians spot children on the spectrum sooner, working on the development of medication, and – supporting families with “tool kits.”  Whew.  To put the $424 million in perspective— that would be 1.4 million X-BOX 360s!

We’ve got it covered!  425,000 volunteers across this nation help us with our events.  That’s a small city of goodwill—about the size of Raleigh, North Carolina. Here in Connecticut, almost 20,000 folks come out for our walks. It’s been a busy eight years and there’s no rest in sight!

Don’t let the accomplishments mask the truth.  Our passion is born out of heartbreak.  Christian will not sit in your chairs.   So we fight for him and all the other boys and girls with Autism.  We fight to build them chairs if we have to…

They will need more than a village.  They will need the world.

You—the graduating class of the Fairfield Country Day School …. know service already.  During a year when there was a devastating local Hurricane…and an illness to one of your beloved teachers, you paid it forward…. with a money-making “Mo-vember.” 

You sold hundreds of fake mustaches to raise awareness for prostate cancer – and then donated $1,300 to Hurricane Sandy victims when it was obvious hat was the more immediate crisis. 

When I heard about this great event -- I kind of thought maybe someone would sneak a mustache into graduation.  No?  Not even for me?

In all seriousness, it is critical to our world that you keep service as your core—and that brings us back to integrity, yes?  Doing what’s right—when it’s right.  Always. 

Integrity. Scholarship. Respect. Passion. Community. Service. All of these qualities are now you. You’ve passed all your tests with flying colors.  

As you move on to higher levels of education and finally – the working world:  Do not lose sight of them!   Remember where you started.  Remember your neighbors.   In good times, remember those suffering.  Remember my grandson Christian and all those on the autism spectrum.  Work hard to transform your communities.         

Remember the salad bar!  Your sports teams… Choir… art and your wonderful teachers…   Build from this foundation.  In fact, let’s give those teachers and the administrative staff a round of applause for all they’ve done for you.

I know today you are officially young men—but let me let you in on something. There’s a little bit of kid in all of us.     So—even though your children’s books may be long packed away, I want to leave you with a quote from the one and only Dr. Seuss—“Theodor Seuss Geisel.”

“Today is your day!  Your mountain is waiting.  So….get on your way!”

But before you leave—go out that blue door one more time.  Ring your own victory bell today—and with every achievement on your path.

Never forget your roots here at Fairfield Country Day School.  Thank you!  Congratulations!!!!!!