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PR- 209-07
June 21, 2007


The following is the text of Mayor Bloomberg's speech as prepared.

"Thank you, Russ, and thank you, Doctor Nurse.  Distinguished faculty members, graduates, and guests:  Good afternoon, everyone-and to those of you who have come to this wonderful ceremony from other parts of the US, or from other nations:  Welcome to New York City.  Enjoy your stay here, and please:  Spend lots of money!

"It's an honor to share the stage today with one of the world's most distinguished biologists, Doctor E.O. Wilson.  Now, at this point, I have to make a disclaimer:  The fact that Doctor Wilson and I are both receiving honorary doctorates in science today is definitely not because we are in the same league academically. In fact, it's more accurate to say that I was always the sort of scholar who made the top half of the class possible.  And I am probably one of the few people here today who can claim that distinction.  So even though I was considering using this occasion to present my views on the molecular structure of immune system interactions, or maybe on the rigidity of single-strand DNA, I really hate to overshadow today's graduates, so I decided to leave that sort of thing to them.

"But I do intend to say a few words about one of those age-old, "chicken or egg debates in the life sciences-one that Doctor Wilson is very familiar with:  The relative importance of nature versus nurture-because I think it has a lot to do with both what these graduates have already achieved, and what the future holds for them.  Now, looking out on the beaming faces of their proud parents, nothing could be more obvious than that these 17 gifted women and 11 exceptional men are brilliant by nature.  Clearly, they have all inherited their brains, ambition, charming personalities, and, especially, their good looks from their mothers.  (And, maybe the fathers had a little something to do with it, too.)  So definitely score one for nature.  But it's also true that untutored genius can only take you so far.  When it comes to achieving scientific excellence, nurture definitely has its place at every level of education-which is precisely why we're making major investments over the next two years in improving science education for New York City's public school students, from kindergarten through the 8th grade.

"Year after year, Rockefeller University's outstanding faculty nurtures great education in science at a far more advanced level-and we should take this moment to give them a well-deserved round of applause. They maintain a tradition of excellence that has made this school the scene of many of medical science's most important breakthroughs.  From the discovery of vaccines for meningitis, to the development of the drugs that make it possible for people with AIDS to enjoy the active and productive lives that would have been unimaginable just a few short years ago. The best thing that we can do for today's graduates is to ensure that the professional environments that they go on to are just as nurturing as the academic environment that they're leaving.  Because that way, they can take what they've learned here, and put it to the greatest possible use in, for example, unraveling the mysteries of Alzheimer's disease, or decoding the molecular basis of cancer, or answering other urgent medical questions.

"You probably won't be surprised to hear me say that New York City is the perfect place for such work to continue.  And that is not an idle boast.  Our enormously skilled workforce, our ready access to venture capital, the fact that in the six months since I was invited to attend this commencement, our city has received more than $600 million in grants from the federal National Institute of Health.  These are just some of the factors that put New York City at the forefront in the commercial biosciences.  Now, to capitalize more fully on those assets, our Administration-with the help of Russ Carson and his colleagues in what is called the New York City Investment Fund-is helping to develop a major new commercial bioscience research and development campus just a short distance from where we are today.

"I've long been a big believer in the future of the biosciences. As a private citizen, I've had an immensely satisfying involvement with the School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University, which I am proud to say now bears my name.  And now as mayor, I am also actively promoting New York's growing biosciences industry.  It has enormous potential for our city's economic future-and it also moves us closer to making Rockefeller University's goal of "science for the benefit of humanity a reality.  Creating the physical infrastructure for bioscience research is one key element of nurturing scientific excellence. It also has to be matched by the kind of stimulating intellectual environment that only comes from bringing together the very best and brightest researchers, from everywhere in the world.

"This graduating class is a good illustration of what I mean. You have been drawn to this great institution from a dozen different nations...from Korea, to Mexico, to Turkey, as well as from our own.  You and students like you help make New York the world's most international, and intellectually exciting, city. And everything that you have shared with one another in your years here... not just in long hours in labs and lecture halls, but also over beers and snacks in the Faculty and Student Center... has enriched your work tremendously. Some of those snacks may have been heavy in trans-fats; that's your choice.  And at least at your age, those extra calories don't show.

"Now, I wish some of our nation's lawmakers could be here today-because this graduating class makes an eloquent argument for why America so urgently needs to revise its immigration policies.  Our current, wildly unrealistic and unworkable visa restrictions severely handicap international students studying here, or at MIT, or at CalTech, or Johns Hopkins, or at other leading research institutions across our nation. This year, our nation's quota for skilled immigrant workers-the 65,000 visas that let private sector employers hire immigrants for up to six years-is only about one-third what it was in the year 2000. And that quota was filled in just one day, leaving tens of thousands of the most brilliant students in the world who want entry to the United States out in the cold. 

"These restrictions hamper our nation's ability to compete in a global economy.  They sully our reputation in the rest of the world.  And perhaps worse of all, they needlessly hold back the advance of scientific knowledge. Now, I acknowledge that immigration reform is a complex subject.  Perhaps inevitably, that makes the immigration reform bill now before our Senate a bundle of compromises.  I don't agree with every one of its features, and I doubt if many people do.  But I do strongly believe that we must let our nation's leaders know that for the good of our country-and for the good of science that truly benefits all humanity-we simply can't afford to keep shutting our door in the face of brilliant young people like many of those graduating here today.

"Finally, our duty to nurture scientific excellence requires us all to work for a political environment that truly respects science, and scientists.  Because when scientists hesitate to speak for fear of losing their funding or positions, or when the work of impartial regulatory bodies is undermined by political considerations.  When the disturbing challenges facing our world are for too-long ignored as "inconvenient truths... or when basic research that could unlock the mysteries of disease and disability is unwisely thwarted.  Then our entire society suffers.

"There's no reason that this must be the case.  From the dawn of our republic to the decision to join the "Space Race, America's political culture has a long and proud tradition of actively nurturing free scientific investigations, wherever they might lead. Think how, in our nation's earliest days, President Thomas Jefferson-himself a scientist of note-sent Lewis and Clark on a voyage of exploration across the uncharted interior of North America.  Read his letter of instruction to them-how it directs them to make careful observation of "the soil and face of the country... animals, including the remains or accounts of any of which may be deemed rare or extinct... mineral productions of every kind... the times of appearance of particular birds, reptiles, and insects. And on and on, with ever more questions about climate, topography, and botany, questions revealing a ferocious curiosity about every aspect of the unknown natural world that those brave explorers would encounter.

"So in that same spirit, let me charge you, today's graduates, with voyaging just as fearlessly into your uncharted futures. It's a cliché at moments like these to say that your futures are limitless.  But to this group, at this moment, that cliché simply happens to be true.  May each day of that future be filled with all the hope and purpose... all the love of learning and love of humanity... that you have shown up until now. May your own brilliant natures, and our loving nurture, guide you to as-yet undreamed of discoveries.

"And may good fortune smile on you all." 


Stu Loeser   (212) 788-2958

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