FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 15, 2011
MAYOR MICHAEL R. BLOOMBERG DELIVERS REMARKS AT THE GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY 2011 COMMENCEMENT CEREMONY
The following is the text of Mayor Bloomberg’s speech as prepared:
“Good morning, everyone. And thank you, President Knapp, for that kind introduction. I know this is a bittersweet day for all of you who are graduating. It won’t be easy to leave a place where you can rub a hippo’s nose, break-dance with big George, sit in Einstein’s lap, pet a dog named Ruffles, and buy a hot-dog from a guy named Manouch! I can see why you love it here! I can also see – even from up here – that some of you look a little tired this morning. Maybe you haven’t yet recovered from last night at McFadden’s? So I promise to be brief – and besides, I don’t want the biggest hurdle between you and your degree to be me!
“But before I offer some thoughts that you graduates will undoubtedly remember word-for-word decades from now, let me first thank another very important group here: I’m talking about a group who is sitting out there this morning beaming proudly and not even thinking about what it cost to get you to this day. Or what happens if you can’t find a job and have to move back home.
Your parents and relatives! Let’s give them a big hand. They deserve it!
“With their support, all of you are now joining a distinguished list of alums including Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy and Colin Powell. So take a look at the people sitting around you. The guy sitting to your left could be a future Secretary of State and the girl sitting to your right could be a future President of the United States of America.
“Also take a moment to look around at this National Mall. We gather not only at the foot of the Washington Monument – which is only appropriate – but also in President Abraham Lincoln’s long shadow. Last month, our nation marked the 150th Anniversary of the start of the Civil War. It was fought to preserve the Union – to preserve America’s bold experiment with democratic self-government. But Lincoln’s war for the Union grew into something even larger: a struggle for freedom. And while more than a century of struggle for equal rights and equal opportunity would follow his death, Lincoln’s leadership redeemed America’s original sin and allowed us to fulfill our destiny as a land of freedom and opportunity.
“Ten years ago, while many of you were in sixth or seventh grade, the freedom that Lincoln secured for all Americans, and that generations of Americans have fought to protect, came under attack by terrorists – the most deadly foreign attack in our nation’s history. I am sure some of you remember where you were or what you were doing that September day when you first heard the news. And I am sure all of you will remember – for the rest of your lives – what you were doing when you heard the news that Osama bin Laden had been killed.
“There are certain moments in the life of our country that stay with us forever. For my generation, it was the assassinations of President Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. For my parent’s generation, it was Pearl Harbor and then V-J Day. There have been many other moments of national celebration and crisis – the landing on the moon, the explosion of the Challenger Space Shuttle, the inauguration of America’s first African-American President.
And there will be many more.
“But before this most recent moment becomes a memory, and because all of you have been such a part of it, let’s take a moment to reflect on the legacy of 9/11 beyond the ongoing War on Terror and what it means for the future of our democracy. I was elected mayor just two months after the attacks of 9/11, when smoke was still rising from the rubble at Ground Zero. Back then, the conventional wisdom was that it would take our City decades to recover – if we ever did.
“People thought businesses would flee, that there would be a mass exodus to the suburbs, and that crime would return. None of that happened – and I’ll tell you why. Our City – and our country – did not give in to fear. We came together as never before and did everything we could to help the victims and their families. We offered our prayers. We donated our blood. We opened our wallets.
Firefighters and iron workers from around the country came to New York to pitch in. People from around the world gave us their support. And by making smart investments in our future, we brought the City back faster and stronger than anyone thought possible.
“Today, Osama bin Laden is dead, and New York City has never been more alive. The unity that defined our nation in the wake of the attacks was critical to revitalizing our City and it also led to two other very positive developments for our country: First, it reminded us that we agree on far more than we disagree on. Especially here in Washington, that can be easy to forget. I know many of you interned on the Hill or in the White House, proudly wearing your ID badges at all times of the day and night – and probably annoying your housemates in the process.
“You’ve seen first-hand how consuming, and how counter-productive, partisanship can be.
But in New York, we didn’t bring our City back as Democrats, or as Republicans, as liberals or conservatives. We brought it back as New Yorkers and Americans.
“As we head into the next election cycle, our leaders would do well to remember that although our hard-won freedoms give us the right to disagree, they also give us the right to agree. The conventional wisdom that Democrats and Republicans hold diametrically opposed beliefs – and that one is right and one is wrong – is just not true. You can be a Democrat or a Republican – I’ve been both. Or you can be anything else. But never make the mistake of thinking that any particular party has a monopoly on good ideas or God on its side.
“Even though the unity that existed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks had no lasting impact on Washington – it did have a lasting impact on Americans, especially young people. Your generation, more than any other before it, recognizes the truth of John F. Kennedy’s wisdom when he said, “Sometimes party loyalty asks too much.” And that is a big reason why independents are the fastest-growing bloc of voters.
“As usual, the people are a step ahead of the politicians – especially young people. And I believe that when your generation takes over this town – and I have no doubt that many of you will occupy some of its most powerful seats – you will begin moving the country away from this period of hyper-partisanship, which is preventing us from accomplishing so many urgent needs and towards a new era where more independent thinking allows for more consensus-driven solutions.
“The second lasting, positive development that grew out of the 9/11 attacks was just as encouraging: a growth in service and volunteering. Americans of all backgrounds – but especially your generation – wanted to do more to help our country. So they signed up to volunteer at a school or a hospital or a homeless center, and as a result, volunteering has become an even bigger part of our culture. I know there are lots of service opportunities here at GW. And I’m told that your school not only met, but far exceeded, the challenge that First Lady Michelle Obama set for you last year: to perform a combined 100,000 hours of service. I think that definitely deserves a round of applause.
“I’d also like give a special round of applause to those graduates who have volunteered for the most dangerous and selfless assignment: serving our nation in uniform.
“We can never take their service and sacrifice for granted – and we should never make the mistake of thinking that the defense of freedom is solely a concern for the military. The freedom our Founding Fathers secured – the freedom that Lincoln extended – the freedom our Armed Forces now protect – the freedom that billions of people are yearning every day to experience, is a freedom that all of us must defend. Even when it is not popular – especially when it is not popular – we have a responsibility to stand up for the right of people to express themselves as they wish to worship how and where they wish, and to love whom they wish.
“That is why, two weeks ago, I spoke out in support of an artist who was scheduled to open an exhibit in New York City, but who has been detained indefinitely by the Chinese authorities. It is why, ten months ago, I strongly defended the rights of New York’s Muslim community to build a mosque and community center in Lower Manhattan and it is why, on Tuesday, I am going to the New York State Capitol to support legislation that would grant marriage equality to all men and all women.
“The freer we are to express ourselves as individuals, the stronger we become as a nation. I understand that a GW student, Todd Belok, was expelled from the ROTC program because of his sexual orientation. But because he and so many others stood up for change – including one of today’s graduates, Michael Komo, Congress recently passed – and President Obama signed – a repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
“It takes courage to stand up to power. To take an unpopular stand. To risk life and limb and livelihood for your ideals. But that is the courage that led to Lexington and Concord, to Fort Sumter, to Seneca Falls, to Selma, Alabama, to the Stonewall Inn, and to this National Mall, where Martin Luther King shared his dream with America, and forever changed the course of our history.
“Today, thanks to all those who had the courage to march and fight and speak out for freedom, there is no road you cannot travel. No future you cannot create. No dream that you cannot realize. You are bound only by the limits of your imagination. The question for all of you graduates is: How will you use that freedom? Don’t worry if you don’t have all the answers right now.
“Your life – and your career path – will not be a straight line. When I graduated from college, no one would have believed – least of all my professors – that I would start a media and information company and later become Mayor of New York City. My own mother can still hardly believe it!
“So as you think about your career, whatever you do, don’t worry about mapping it all out – and don’t play it safe. Don’t be the person who quits a start-up company – or a band – before giving it a chance to make it big. And don’t be afraid to start over or change direction. The more risks you take, the happier you’ll be – even if they don’t work out. And I can assure you: sometimes they won’t. But I can also assure you this: No matter what job you have, no matter who your employer is, the harder you work, the luckier you’ll get.
“Whether you feel ready to begin a career or not, the education that you’ve received here at GW has prepared you for success – and I don’t just mean the education you’ve gotten in the classroom. You’ve heard from some of the most important and influential leaders of our time. You’ve been given unprecedented access to the power center of government. And I bet you’ve learned a few other things too, like what meals to avoid at J-Street and what exactly you are allowed to do in each of those Gellman study areas – where you can use laptops, where you can study in groups, where you can eat snacks and where you can do none of those things.
“Wherever you’re going next, there will be new rules to master, and new frontiers to conquer. My advice is simple: Continue learning. Continue asking difficult questions. Continue thinking independently. Continue volunteering your time to help others. Continue defending – and enjoying – the freedom that makes America great. And – most importantly – continue calling your mother.
“Tonight – before you begin this exciting new phase in your life; enjoy one last happy hour at McFadden’s, one last hot dog from Manouch, and one last hail to the Buff and Blue, because tomorrow, the real work begins! Congratulations to you all! Best of luck and God bless.”
Stu Loeser (212) 788-2958
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