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PR- 188-11
June 4, 2011


The following is the text of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s speech as prepared. Please check against delivery.

“Thank you very much, Doctor Pollard. The next time I talk to my mother – who turned 102 earlier this year – I’ll tell her the nice things you said about me, and also describe the warm reception I got here. She’ll probably answer the way she usually does: ‘Don’t let it go to your head.’

“Good morning! This is a really remarkable graduation ceremony, for a host of reasons. Let me explain. I’ve been to a number of commencements this spring. But I’m quite certain that this is the first one where the graduates include three sets of husbands and wives, two sisters, a father and his daughter, and a mother and her son all receiving degrees on the same day.

“You’re living proof that families that study together, stay together! And it’s wonderful to see you all together on this graduation day. There’s something else that’s a little out of the ordinary today. Usually when I speak at college commencements, I’m looking out at a sea of young people. Youth is certainly very well represented here, too.

“But I can’t help noticing that that there are also some older and wiser faces sprinkled among today’s graduates: some people in their 50s, some in their 60s. And there is one gentleman, who was born when Joe Louis became the world heavyweight champion, and when ‘Showtime at the Apollo’ meant Count Basie backing up Billie Holliday: Mr. Leon Brandel, who today is receiving his Bachelor of Science degree in psychology at the age of 74.

“That’s extraordinary. It’s inspiring. And I think he – along with all of the elders who are graduating today – deserve a big round of applause from the rest of us.

“Now, often enough, once people reach a certain age – and it doesn’t even have to be Mr. Brandel’s age, it can be when you get into your mid-20s – the thought of going back to school can be a bit intimidating. You start to get set in your ways. You develop a personal ‘comfort zone’ you’re reluctant to leave. But all too often, that comfort zone can become a straitjacket.

“Because if you stop trying new things, and if you don’t stretch yourself in new ways, life passes you by. Now, as someone who struggles every day to improve my Spanish, I know that learning new things can sometimes be no fiesta.

“It might be easy for students like your valedictorian, Nigel Birch. But not always for me. Still, I take to heart advice from a woman whose dynamic example has meant so much to so many – Oprah Winfrey. She said, ‘You have to do the one thing you think you cannot do. Fail at it. Try again. Do better the second time. The only people who never tumble are those who never mount the high wire. This is your moment. Own it.’

“Graduates:  today, we honor you for owning your moments; for recognizing that life’s adventures are meant to be savored, and that learning, ceaseless learning, is the greatest adventure of them all.

“You’ve plunged boldly ahead with that adventure – some of you, right after your high school graduations; some of you, a bit later, even if it also meant balancing your studies with the competing demands of jobs and family responsibilities; and some of you, like all the elders graduating today, at a still more advanced age.

“By embracing the adventure of learning, you’ve not only enriched your own lives. You’ve set a fantastic example for others to follow – others, including your children, spouses, co-workers, neighbors. And also all the students who’ll be sitting where you are next June, and for many Junes to follow, to each of you, I want to say ‘thank you’ for doing that. 

“Because in today’s knowledge-based, global economy, if New York is going to keep being a city of opportunity for all, then we New Yorkers have all got to do just as you are doing. We have to keep pushing ourselves to grow. We have to constantly acquire new skills. And we have to pursue knowledge with a single-minded passion our whole lives through.

“To help Medgar Evers students in that pursuit, our Administration committed some $120 million to building the new academic building that opened here last year.

“And over the past nine and a half years, we’ve also devoted so many resources, and so much effort, to helping the children in our public schools develop a love of learning, too. We want them all to succeed; we want them all to experience the thrill of achievement that you graduates feel today. So we’ve worked hard to raise standards, and then help our students meet them. We believe that a good education is their fundamental civil right. And even though the task of transforming our schools isn’t over yet, we’ve made enormous progress.  We’re headed in the right direction. We’re honored, and humbled, that President Obama has singled out New York’s schools as a model for other big cities coast to coast.

“Each of us has a part to play in encouraging our children to become life-long learners. That’s why, as I said, your example is so important. It’s one reason why I hope you’ll continue to ‘own’ every precious moment of your lives, and carry on the adventure of learning. With your help and example, and with a continued strong partnership with Dr. Pollard and his wonderful faculty and staff here at Medgar Evers – a faculty that, by the way, includes Greg Mayers, the chair of this college’s Department of Public Administration, who’s currently on leave and part of our team at City Hall – together, we can make sure that best days for all our children, and all New Yorkers, are still to come.

“This is certainly one of the best days, if not the best day, for all of you. May it be filled with wonderful memories for you and your loved ones. Congratulations to you all, young and – older. And may God bless.


Stu Loeser/Julie Wood   (212) 788-2958


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