GE chief tells BC graduates ethics, innovation, collaboration count

By John M. Guilfoil
Globe Staff / May 25, 2010

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Boston College graduates got a dose of reality with a hint of promise from General Electric chairman and chief executive Jeffrey Immelt yesterday.

“Look, it’s a mess out there,’’ Immelt told BC’s 134th commencement, at Alumni Stadium, according to a transcript of his remarks. “There are some real problems that need to be fixed. I could really bum you out if I wanted to.’’

But Immelt encouraged the 3,521 graduates to seize the opportunity to improve life around the world.

“The country will be better coming out of the financial crisis,’’ he said, “if we learn a few lessons: that real, honest, ethical leadership matters; that the US cannot prosper today as just a service economy — we need to roll up our sleeves again to innovate and build things; that we have to compete to be great; that business and government must work together to solve the toughest challenges.’’

Introducing Immelt, the Rev. William P. Leahy, president of BC, challenged the graduates to make lasting contributions to society.

“Scripture urges us to bear fruit that will last and reminds that of those who have received much, much is expected,’’ Leahy said.

“Talent and gifts are to be used responsibly and for the good of others. We do that when we are people of hope and integrity, when we treat others with compassion, respect, and honesty, when we both support and challenge, when we serve and not seek to be served.’’

Also in attendance was US Senator Scott Brown, who watched his daughter, Ayla, receive her bachelor’s degree in communications, said BC spokesman Ed Hayward.

I am proud of Ayla and all of her classmates,’’ Brown said in an e-mail.

“BC provided Ayla with a first-class education, which has enabled her to be prepared for when she begins her life outside of school and in the workforce.’’

Boston College presented Immelt with an honorary doctorate in business administration.

The college also gave honorary degrees to urban education reform specialist Anthony Bryk, a 1970 graduate and president of The Carnegie Foundation; Yawkey Foundation chairman and former Red Sox chief executive officer John Harrington, of BC’s class of 1957, MBA 1966; Sister Mary Hart of St. Katharine Drexel Parish in Roxbury; Joy Haywood Moore, a 1981 graduate and deputy head of academy at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa; and Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, a member of the Congregation for Bishops at the Vatican, BC said.

John M. Guilfoil can be reached at

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