What’s In A Name: Peter Buffett Visits SLS

Last week, St. Luke’s hosted Peter Buffett, the son of the well known investor Warren Buffett, for an afternoon of music and conversation. Buffett gave two performances, one for the middle school and one for the upper school. The program consisted of a powerpoint presentation, coupled with live performances of original compositions, with breaks in which Buffett spoke about his life experience. The performance was part of a tour that Buffett has taken around the world, entitled Life Is What You Make of It: A Concert and Conversation With Peter BuffettThe tour launched about two and a half years ago, following the publication of his book, Life Is What You Make of It. Buffett was brought to the school as one of a series of speakers sponsored by the new Center For Leadership.

Within the St. Luke’s community, the presentation, and the man, were met with mixed feelings. Walking into the auditorium, most St. Luke’s students had no previous knowledge of Peter Buffett, removed from the name of his father. Once the presentation was under way, Buffett addressed this immediately. He acknowledged the unfortunate reality that his surname lends itself to assumptions about his childhood, his motivation, and his character. He stressed the humble nature of his upbringing, and the lack of pressure on himself and his siblings to strive for financial success. From this atmosphere, he said, came his personal philosophy and the title of his book, Life Is What You Make of It. The struggle to become one’s own person, regardless of birth circumstances, is a universal human grievance, and this message resonated with many audience members. However, given Buffett’s privileged heritage, many St. Luke’s students, and faculty members, found this message to be inherently hypocritical. Buffett went on to discuss his views concerning money, namely, that it wasn’t of primary importance to him. Again, many students and teachers called out the contradiction.

Immediately following this, the focus of the presentation switched from Buffett’s personal life story, to the philanthropic work he is doing under the banner of the Peter Buffet Foundation, worth $1 billion, set up by his father, Warren.  The issues he focused on ranged from environmental destruction, to the education of young girls in rural India. His foundation works extensively in both of these areas. These efforts are undeniably admirable, though the fact remains that he is only able to do this work because of his father’s contribution. The presentation ended with an inspiring sing-along, which garnered widespread audience participation and encouraged audience members to take a look at the greater global community, and work for positive change.

Walking out of the auditorium, many felt that the multiple messages presented in under an hour, undermined their individual poignance. While this might be true, it’s undeniable that Buffett needed to address his name, and father, (the elephants in the room) right off the bat. If he hadn’t, there would likely be more complaints. Following that, it is interesting to note that he chose to focus on humanitarian issues. Undoubtedly this decision transferred value from names, and superficial labels, to the greater good of humanity across the globe.

Ultimately, many in the St. Luke’s community felt that Buffett stressed the importance of living life regardless of your birth or surname, while profiting immensely from his. The underlying sentiment seemed to be that he would not have been brought into St. Luke’s if his name was not Peter BuffettPeter Buffett, though, is an Emmy winning musician in his own right, a fact which is overlooked in light of his father’s monumental success. It seems that his philanthropic message was unfortunately overshadowed by the controversy surrounding his name.

At the end of the day, Peter Buffett’s visit to St. Luke’s sparked a conversation. The ultimate goal of all speakers is to do just that, and so from an intellectual perspective, it was undoubtedly a success.

— Nikki Bennett-Fite, Editor

Posted by on February 6, 2012. Filed under School News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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