FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 20, 2008
MAYOR MICHAEL R. BLOOMBERG DELIVERS COMMENCEMENT ADDRESS AT BARNARD COLLEGE’S 116TH COMMENCEMENT CEREMONY
The following is the text of Mayor Bloomberg's speech as prepared – please check against delivery.
"Thank you very much, Judith. I also want to thank the chair of your board of trustees, Anna Quindlen, for inviting me to join all of you for today's commencement, and to congratulate the more than 550 extraordinary Barnard women in this great class of 2008!
"Today's graduates and President Shapiro are both moving on after today's ceremony. Judith - I know that after 14 years, the Barnard community will miss your leadership, your exuberance, and your famous gin martinis. They'll also have to get along without the one-poodle canine security patrol you've provided. I'm talking about your inseparable companion, Nora - who, despite Barnard's 'no dogs allowed' policy, somehow still managed to have the run of the campus.
"And perhaps most of all, Barnard will miss Judith's remarkable singing voice. On our walk across Broadway from Barnard, Judith suggested that it would make this a really special occasion if I joined her in serenading the graduating class. I told her that it would be even more special if I didn't.
"Now, I am about to impart to you some indispensable words of wisdom - or perhaps you'll think them dispensable, depending on how well you've recovered from your recent nights partying at Havana Central.
"But before I do, let me recognize a very special group: the parents and relatives who are sitting out there beaming proudly and not even thinking about what it cost to get to this day, or what will happen if you have to move back home now. So let's give them a big hand. They deserve it!
"As others have noted, today's commencement is being held here at Columbia because of construction of a new student union that, when it's finished, will be a great addition to the campus. It's got an innovative "green" design that really embodies Barnard's commitment to helping New York City dramatically shrink our carbon footprint.
"But what today's graduates may remember most about this project is 'The Wall' - the plastic canvas that the Administration put up on the protective fencing around the construction site. That's because they've been using it as a giant outdoor bulletin board. The college activities office even gave out spray paint to student clubs so they could make their postings really stand out.
"I'm sure that all you parents are delighted to hear that your daughters have spent their senior years learning to become better graffiti artists. It's wonderful to know that your tuition checks were put to such good use, isn't it?
"As an art lover, graduates, I commend you. But as New York's Mayor, I remind you: your 'tagging' days are now officially over. What happens at Barnard stays at Barnard.
"Of course, you're not staying at Barnard. You're about to continue personal journeys that reflect all the diversity represented in this graduating class. I want to say something about just one of these graduates - Margaret Johnson, who returned to Barnard after a more than 20-year interruption for work and family life. Picking up the thread of learning after so many years isn't easy. I know - for the past seven years I've been taking lessons to improve my Spanish. And let me tell you, it's no fiesta. So Margaret, you definitely have my admiration, and my congratulations.
"Now as you go out into the world, each of you will carry a diploma from Barnard in your hand - as well as the stamp this college has put on your character. Barnard calls its philosophy of education 'the nine ways of knowing.' Each of those nine ways offers its own valuable insights and rewards. But today, let me urge you to round them out with a tenth way of knowing that embraces them all and that is the best teacher of all: experience. All of you are familiar with it already.
"From this day forward, deepen your hold on this tenth way of knowing from the experience of work, the experience of testing yourselves in new ways, and the experience of personally engaging the great challenges of our age. As one very wise Greek philosopher and, later, running shoe guru, once said: 'Just do it!'
"For many of you, this 'tenth way of knowing' will kick-in in earnest as you head into the job market starting… tomorrow morning.
"Don't worry about your salary or title right away. Make your first job something that will teach, humble, and exhilarate. That way, whatever you choose to do, you'll want to go in at 7AM, stay until midnight, and give it your all. It won't even seem like a sacrifice, and it will pay dividends in ways you might not expect.
"When I went to Wall Street after business school, I found that being the first person in the office each morning gave me opportunities for face time with the boss, before the others arrived. It also gave me the chance to read the office copy of The Wall Street Journal and save the 15-cent newsstand price. I urge you to do the same - and not just because the Journal now costs a dollar and a half.
"You'll notice that while luck plays a part in success, the harder you work, the luckier you'll get - and then you'll do better and better.
"Experience is the tenth way of knowing. But experience can be a hard way of knowing, too. So you've also got to learn to roll with the punches that it throws. I spent 15 years on Wall Street working at a firm that really valued the work I did - right up to the day they showed me the door. But on the day I was fired, I knew that the next day was going to be a better one.
"So rather than lick my wounds, I decided that the thing to do was to strike out on my own. I had a vague idea about designing and marketing a computer terminal that would provide desktop financial services information -instantly.
"So I started my own company. We began with four employees, a one-room office, one coffeepot, and zero customers. The company proved to be a success. So for those who fired me and are still keeping score, things worked out just fine, thank you very much!
"That's another way of saying that in pursuing this tenth way of knowing, you can't be afraid to try new things, or even to completely change the direction of your professional lives. I've kept doing that.
"Seven years ago, I walked away from the business that I'd founded, to try my luck running for elective office. Some people disagreed with that decision pretty strongly. They thought I'd taken leave of my senses. They told me I was off my rocker. They asked me who I thought I was. And those were just the members of my family!
"In fact, it turned out to be one of the best decisions I've ever made. I've found it enormously satisfying to strive, and sometimes succeed, in making a positive difference in the future of this city.
"Of course that's also because I've been willing to keep taking risks - and been willing to fall flat on my face, too. 'Nothing ventured, nothing gained' may be a cliché. But that only means it's a truth that's been repeated so often that it's become familiar - which doesn't make it any less true.
"I've found my years at City Hall among the most rewarding in my life. And I want to urge each of you to make public service and political engagement part of your tenth way of knowing, too. Many of you are already part of Barnard's great tradition in public service. In fact, I'd like to recognize two of today's graduates for particular bravery in their undergraduate lives: they chose to be interns at City Hall - Miri Cypers and Jackie Garcia.
"I'm also glad to see two Barnard women who have returned for today's commencement: my Community Affairs Unit Commissioner Nazli Parvizi, Barnard class of 1999, and Ester Fuchs, who, even though she's now at Columbia, once headed Barnard's Urban Studies department, and who also served as my special advisor during four years at City Hall.
"There has never been a better time in the City's history for women to make their contributions, and make their mark, in City government. Today, for the first time ever, three of seven New York City's Deputy Mayors are women - including our First Deputy Mayor, who takes charge of the city when I am away.
"Women also run City departments with major and decidedly non-traditional responsibilities over infrastructure, finances, and City planning. They've all proved - as I'm sure that you all will, too - that ability knows no boundaries.
"And now more than ever, we need you to devote your abilities to addressing the great challenges that our nation faces. Now more than ever, our nation needs you - your energy, your imagination, your commitment to creating a better world. Through your political engagement, you can make the upcoming election season historic, and help reaffirm what makes this great nation truly great. We're counting on you!
"And through your continuing political engagement, you can help reform a health care system that not only leaves one in six Americans uninsured, but that provides decidedly second-rate care of diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic conditions - while costing us $2 trillion a year. Your continuing political engagement can also spur the urgent action needed to combat global warming - at a pace far faster than we've seen to date - in business, in government at every level, and in our own lives as well. As New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has put it: when it comes to global warming, 'it's too late for later!'
"And through your continuing political engagement, you can demand more from those who want your vote than empty platitudes or glittering generalities. Remember: In the voting booth, you have the power.
"The tenth way of knowing from experience also means learning from and valuing the experiences of those who have gone before you. Not all of their stories are well known - so let me tell one today.
"I'm thinking of a woman who graduated from college during the 1920s - a time when that was a very rare achievement for a young woman. And she has never lost that pioneering spirit. At the midpoint of her life, her husband passed away suddenly. But she didn't let that defeat her. She took a job, she taught herself to drive, and adamantly refused to let her daughter move back home to take care of her, insisting instead that she finish college and establish a life of her own.
"That woman is my mother Charlotte - one of the most independent-minded people that I've ever been privileged to know, and now blessedly in her 99th year. Her quiet valor has been an inspiration to my sister Marjorie, who now directs the agency that manages New York's role as an international city with all the skill of a born diplomat, to my own daughters - two young women, both determined, in their own lives and in their own ways, to clear every hurdle they meet in their path, and also to me, as I've tried to work the lessons and example of her life into my own.
"Now, let me offer my final bit of advice about this tenth way of knowing from experience that you're now beginning in earnest. This is it: There's no better place to get that experience than here in New York City. You've experienced this city's incredible diversity of cultures here at Barnard - and its diversity of ideas. Now, whether your interest is in medicine or media, high finance or higher learning, or any other field of endeavor, here is where you can enter whatever career you chose. And let me tell you: this is the city for women who are prepared to strive and succeed.
"As I'm sure you all know, life in this city might throw you a curve now and again. But it won't be anything that four years at Barnard - combined with all ten ways of knowing - won't prepare you to handle.
"Fifty-five years ago, the novelist John Steinbeck, a transplanted Californian, described the process of becoming a New Yorker. And I think what he had to say then still rings true today.
"'The city's climate,' he wrote, 'is a scandal. Its politics are used to frighten small children. Its traffic is madness. Its competition is murderous. But there is one thing about it. Once you have lived in New York, and it has become your home, no place else is good enough.'
"Regardless of whether you go or you stay, may you always think of New York that way. And may this day be filled with happy memories for you and your families.
"Good luck, and God bless you all."
Stu Loeser / Evelyn Erskine (212) 788-2958