FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 27, 2010
MAYOR MICHAEL R. BLOOMBERG DELIVERS REMARKS AT THE JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY 2010 COMMENCEMENT CEREMONY
The following is the text of Mayor Bloomberg’s speech as delivered:
“Good morning, everyone. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, please. Affan, thank you for that introduction. It’s always nice to meet a fellow class president – and a fellow fraternity brother. And if you’ve gotten over your fear and are thinking about running for Mayor of New York City, I’d appreciate if you’d wait three-and-a-half years.
“I am truly honored to have been invited to speak at my alma mater on this lucky- lovely day, at least not this past February during the famous snowstorm. Actually I hear it was a lot of fun. Everyone just hung out, didn’t go to class, got nothing accomplished. Actually that sounded like my entire freshman year here.
“My plan this morning was to give a speech reminiscing about my four years at Hopkins in the 1960s. But you know what they say about the sixties: If you can remember them, you weren’t there.
“Having said that, being here at Homewood Field reminds me of my graduation, which took place on the Upper Quad in front of Gilman. Our commencement speaker was Lester Pearson – a former prime minister of Canada and a Nobel Peace Prize winner – and he talked for what seemed like two hours under a hot, blazing sun on a subject that completely escapes me. It really was enough to turn you off a career in government. Well actually, almost.
“So I promise to be brief and besides, I know this is a little early in the morning for some of you – you probably were tired from a night at PJs. And I just don’t want to be the last hurdle between your degree and me!
“Before I go, let me offer some thoughts, however, that you graduates will undoubtedly cherish word-for-word for decades to come and before I do that, let me just seriously thank another very important group here. Pam Flaherty talked about them. I’m talking about the group sitting out there this morning beaming proudly, not even thinking about what it cost to get you to this day or what happens if you can’t find a job and move back home. They’re your parents and relatives and I thought you might want to give them another big hand.
“Now as you can guess, Johns Hopkins holds a special place in my heart. I arrived on campus 50 years ago – and over the succeeding four years, as you may have gathered, I did not have a great academic record. As I often like to say, I was the kind of student that made the top half of the class possible. And I don’t even have the excuse of saying that I took ‘Intro to Microeconomics’ with Professor Hamilton.
“But I did have a lot of fun here, perhaps a bit too much. I’m only glad they didn’t have digital cameras to record it. All would have wound up on YouTube. And despite what Affan told you, I do come back to visit the campus quite often. Who do you think fills in for the ‘Shush Lady’ when she needs a breather, keep you all quiet?
“Every time I visit, I can’t help but think how much things have changed here since I matriculated. In my freshman year, I think tuition had for the first year gone over a thousand dollars a year. Today it’s forty times that. Back then, the undergraduate school was 1,400 undergraduates on the Homewood campus. Today, there are four times that number. And apparently, every one of them is in the Milton Eisenhower Library. I can only tell you the library didn’t exist when I started here: I watched the hole being dug for it.
“And then when I went here, my fraternity house was the center of good times, good fellowship and good beer. The good beer was actually my responsibility. And today, to show you how things have changed, the house has been sold to a nearby high school, and they’re currently tearing it down and turning it into a parking lot.
“But wait a second; I don’t want you think that I was one of those old codgers who believe everything was better ‘back in the good old days.’ In fact, in many ways, the good old days were actually worse.
“For one thing, we didn’t have many of the great facilities that you enjoy today. No swimming pool, no rock climbing wall. There was no Carey Business School. No school of education. And while we did have a school of health, there was something missing in the name. I’m not sure what that was. Also, back then, our baseball team wasn’t playing in the College World Series. Go Jays! And most importantly, there was not a single woman going to school on this campus. And that wasn’t unusual for educational institutions back then.
“The point I want to make is that this institution has come a very long way since 1960 – and at the same time, so has our country. And that brings me to the real message that I want to share with you today. When I arrived fifty years ago, the promise of the American dream was still out of reach for far too many. There was no Civil Rights Act for minorities, no Voting Right Act for the disenfranchised, no Medicaid for the poor, and no Medicare for the elderly.
“But by the time the 60s ended, all of that had changed, and it changed because Americans – many of them young like you – had the courage to fight for their ideals. Those changes transformed America for the better. And other positive changes followed – including women’s rights and environmental protection.
“But I think it’s fair to say that the very same forces that drove so much of this progress also stood passively by as big cities like Baltimore and New York experienced declining schools, rising crime, and growing welfare dependency. Once again, new forces of progress, I’m happy to say, rose to meet the challenge. But this time, they came more from the right than the left. And just as liberals were right to insist on equal rights and shared prosperity, I think conservatives were right to insist on government accountability and personal responsibility.
“Our history shows us that neither liberals nor conservatives have a monopoly on good ideas. No ideology has God on its side – or a choir of angels at its feet. And yet, one of the things that never- you can applaud, thank you very much.
“And yet one of the things that never ceases to amaze me in government is how so many highly intelligent people are willing to accept the conventional wisdom without ever asking the hard questions. They follow ideology and special interests and the polls – instead of following the facts. There’s a saying that has served me well in business and government: ‘In God We Trust. Everyone else, bring data.’
“Your professors have never taught you to simply follow the crowd. The whole point of a university education is to ask difficult questions and search for truth. And so they’ve encouraged you to look at the facts yourself, and arrive at your own conclusions. That simple act is so basic and yet so important and so painfully absent from so much of our political dialogue.
“In the 1960s, there was a famous slogan your parents will remember: ‘Never trust anyone over 30.’ I will say we eventually outgrew that – at about age 30 – but it symbolized a very real feeling back then that our generation’s ideals could change the world. Your generation will pursue its own ideas – and you’ll live by your own set of rules.
“But if I were to suggest one rule to you, no matter how old you grow, it would be this: Never trust anyone who reflexively shoots down an idea just because it comes from a different party or ideology. That kind of narrow-mindedness gets in the way of progress issue after issue from making America more energy independent to overhauling our broken immigration system, to creating the first class education that we need to remain a global superpower in the 21st century.
“On each of these issues and others, both liberals and conservatives have good ideas. The only problem is that – too often – neither side is able or willing to admit that the other side might actually be onto something.
“You all know the Hopkins’ motto – Veritas vos liberabit – which translates from Latin to, ‘the truth shall set you free.’ But what you’ll find outside the friendly confines of this campus, especially about 40 miles south of here on I-95, is that many people live by another motto: ‘You shall be free to set the truth.’
“The honest truth is, you do have a right to your own opinions but not to your own facts. Partisans and ideologues of every stripe ignore facts that don’t support their opinions. We see it on TV and hear it on the radio every single day. None of them seem willing to listen – to seek some truth in another’s position to find some common ground. That job is left to others. That job, in fact, is left to you.
“So listen to others. Ask the hard questions. Evaluate issues on the merits. And vote for the most effective leader – even if you don’t agree with him or her on every issue. As former Mayor Ed Koch of New York City once said, ‘If you agree with me on 9 of 12 issues vote for me. If you agree with me on 12 of 12, go see a psychiatrist.’
“I have to tell you, whenever I come to the conclusion of a commencement address I always face the same dilemma: How can I tell the graduates that the future is in their hands without frightening the rest of the audience? But the truth is, I have no doubt that the amazing education you’ve all received at Johns Hopkins puts you in an incredible position.
“The opportunities and possibilities before you are virtually endless. And you will find success if you work hard, take risks, ask your own questions, seek your own answers, maintain an open mind – always – and never stop learning. Never compromise your integrity. And never let go of the American spirit of independence.
“No doubt, it’s going to be challenging at times but whether you’re going into the military, entering the professional world, beginning a career in public service or continuing your education I know that your talent, your energy, your great independence will shine through.
“So grab one last ‘Natty Bo’ at PJs because tomorrow the real work begins. Congratulations all on this wonderfully joyous day – and I want you to remember this piece of advice that I give to every person I hire: Don’t screw it up.
“Good luck and God bless.”
Stu Loeser / Andrew Brent (212) 788-2958