FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 28, 2013
MAYOR BLOOMBERG DELIVERS REMARKS AT THE KENYON COLLEGE 2013 COMMENCEMENT CEREMONY
The following is the text of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s remarks as prepared for delivery:
“Good morning, faculty, family, students, friends – Lords and Ladies all! Ryan, thank you for that kind introduction, and thank you, Provost Samhat and President Nugent for giving me such a warm welcome today.
“Some students suggested I call the President ‘The Nooge’ – but that doesn’t seem dignified. Don’t worry, Madame President: The New York tabloids call me “Bloomy.” (And that’s when they’re being nice.)
“This is my first day at Kenyon and I’m told that when you first get here, you’re supposed to stand up and sing the college song in front of everyone – and they boo you. Well, I’m happy to do that. I’ve been practicing, I know the words – but today isn’t about me. It’s about you, the graduates. The Great Class of 2013!
“Today, I salute you, graduates – but not merely for your academic achievements, though they have been many. As Rutherford B. Hayes, Class of 1842, said: ‘The honor of success is increased by the obstacles which are to be surmounted.’
“You have done a remarkable job overcoming every obstacle on the way to your diploma – and I’ve heard about a few of them:
“You overcame swine flu freshman year. You overcame Middle Path – in mud and snow and ice. You overcame living in New-Apps and having an 8:10 A.M. economics class in Ascension.
“But you survived it all – and here you are.
“However, while this is a very special weekend for the graduates, before imparting some indispensable words of wisdom that you are sure to remember for the rest of your life, I’d like to say something about another important group here today.
“They are sitting out there this morning, beaming proudly and not even thinking about what it cost to get to this day or what happens if you can’t get a job and have to move back home.
“I’m talking about your parents and relatives – let’s give them a big hand. They deserve it!
“Now, knowing that there’d be such a distinguished crowd here, I felt compelled to do my research before I spoke today. I really wanted to understand the Kenyon experience.
“So this morning, I had hoped to visit the ‘Kack’ – home of the nationally ranked men’s and women’s swimming teams! And also the Jasper Tennis Center – home of the soon-to-be National Champion Men’s Tennis team!
“I had planned to go inside the upside-down tree. I wanted to walk into Pierce – and not step on the college seal. (I didn’t want to jinx this speech.)
“I wanted to head over to The Cove – and eat some Mac and Cheese wedges. (I hear the atmosphere is very, what’s the right word, colorful?)
“I wanted to go to Sunset Point and sit on a bench, then go to the Beta Rock over in South Quad – although my health commissioner back at home advised me not to sit on that.
“Most of all – and can you blame me? – I was hoping to see Gourd-zilla!
“I wanted to do all of that before coming here but instead, I spent the entire morning looking for parking!
“I had no idea how hard it is to park on this campus. I think I’m way out in South Lot 2. The only reason I made it here on time is that I sent out an ‘All-Stu’ to get a lift – and here I am.
“So: I’m not quite as prepared for today as you graduates are, but that’s okay because today is about looking forward – as you commence a new phase in your life.
“And as you do, what’s most important is not what you are able to remember from your classes.
“Over time, you will forget most of the books you read, the equations you memorized, the studies you analyzed, the papers you wrote, the tests you took.
“That’s inevitable – it happens to all of us.
“What’s important is not remembering what you’ve learned; it’s realizing how much more there still is to learn.
“Some of you will continue your formal education. Some may go back to school down the road. And some of you never want to sit in a classroom again for the rest of your lives! Regardless: don’t let your education end here.
“In a few minutes, you will become a graduate – but I hope that, for the rest of your life, you will remain a student.
“Your capacity to learn is the greatest asset you have in life. Never give it up – and never sell it short.
“Every day, I take a Spanish lesson. I read widely. I listen to people who have unique insights. And – most importantly – I ask questions.
“Don’t ever be afraid to ask a question.
“The most powerful word in the English language is ‘Why’ – because there is nothing so powerful as an open mind. Whatever path you choose in life – whether it involves scientific discovery, technological innovation, entrepreneurial activity, public service, artistic expression, public service, or anything else – be a lifelong student.
“Because the day you stop learning is the day you start dying.
“The world is full of people who have stopped learning and who think they’ve got it all figured out. You’ve no doubt met some of them already – and you’ll meet plenty more.
“Their favorite word is ‘No.’ They will give you a million reasons why something can’t be done or shouldn’t be done.
“Don’t listen to them – don’t be deterred by them – and don’t become one of them. Not if you want to fulfill your potential – and not if you want to change the world for the better.
“Back in 2001, when I was considering running for mayor, people told me: ‘Don’t do it. You’ll never win. The media will tear you apart. You don’t know the first thing about politics.’
“And that was just my family.
“But one person said to me: ‘If you can picture yourself giving a concession speech, then why not go for it?’
“That was the best advice I received – and I followed it.
“In order to succeed, you must first be willing to fail and you must have the courage to go for it anyway.
“If I could wish one thing for all of you graduates today, it would be this: Live courageously. Live courageously. Don’t play it safe.
“I’m not talking about climbing the water tower – or swimming in the river or wearing something crazy to ‘Shock Your Mom.’
“I’m saying: Take risks – and take charge. Don’t let others decide your future for you. And don’t wait for opportunity to knock.
“A former Kenyon student – the comic genius Jonathan Winters, who died last month – once said: ‘If your ship doesn’t come in, swim out to meet it.’
“Have the courage to act on your hopes; don’t be paralyzed by your fears. Have the courage to think for yourself and to believe in your ideas.
“That kind of courage lies at the heart of human invention and progress – and the lack of it lies at the heart of our political problems today.
“Last year, about 125 miles northeast of this campus, a 17-year student opened fire in his high school cafeteria, killing three people and seriously wounding others.
“It was national news – for a day or two. Then came mass shootings in Pittsburgh, Miami, Oakland, Tulsa, Seattle, Wilmington, Aurora, Milwaukee, Texas A&M, Minneapolis, Brookfield, Portland.
“After each one, those in Washington just shrugged.
“Then, Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
“20 children, six faculty members all gunned down.
“As a parent, it was just unthinkable. After Newtown, President Obama and some congressional leaders finally stood up and said: Something must be done.
“I did everything I could to support them and to push Congress to act. But our efforts weren’t enough to pass a piece of legislation – requiring background checks for all gun purchases – that 90 percent of Americans agree with including more than 80 percent of gun owners.
“I believe it comes down to one word: courage.
“Too many members of Congress did not have the courage to stand up to the increasingly extremist view of the NRA’s Washington lobbyists.
“Many of them feared that voting for a common sense policy would lead to someone challenging them in a party primary or hurt their chances to win their party’s nomination to higher office.
“They would have done well to remember the words of Kenyon’s Rutherford B. Hayes, who said at his inaugural: ‘He serves his party best who serves his country best.’
“Instead, we have a federal law that prohibits criminals and the mentally ill from buying guns – and we have a Congress that doesn’t have the courage to enforce it through a comprehensive background check system.
“As a result, 33 innocent people are murdered with guns every day. That’s 12,000 Americans every year.
“Since you graduates first signed the Matriculation Oath as freshman, more than 40,000 Americans have been murdered with guns.
“That’s nearly as many Americans as we lost in combat during the entire Vietnam War.
“Congress’s failure to act is Washington at its worst – but I would not be fighting for change if I didn’t believe we could win.
“In fact, I believe we will win – sooner or later. Because I believe in all of you.
“Your generation – more than any other, at least since the 1960s – is reshaping society in fundamental ways by making your values known and your voices heard.
“I’ve seen how powerful that can be. In New York, the voices of young people – some of them too young to vote – played a crucial role in passing a law legalizing same-sex marriage and it passed with bi-partisan support.
“Here in Ohio, the son of a Republican senator – who had the courage to come out – led his father to change his view of gay marriage and it gave him the courage to speak out.
“Individual courage – combined with collective action and teamwork – changes the world.
“Nine years ago, voters here in Ohio passed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. But because so many young people are speaking up and organizing – make no mistake: its days are numbered.
“When all of you return for your 10-year reunion – and hopefully well before – that amendment will belong to history’s scrap heap.
“I can already hear some of the conversations at that reunion.
“Some of you may be talking about how you worked on the campaign that elected our first woman president.
“Some of you may be talking about how you’ve helped pioneer sustainability initiatives that are allowing us to win the battle against climate change – which we are working hard to do in New York City.
“Some of you may be talking about the tech companies you’ve started or are working for – hopefully in New York City – which are changing the way we live our lives.
“Some of you may be talking about the schools you work in that are erasing the achievement gap that has existed for far too long between racial and ethnic groups – and I’m glad to report we’ve made important progress on that in New York City.
“Some of you may be talking about diseases you have helped to eradicate, something that I’ve strongly supported through my philanthropy.
“And I predict that all of you will be talking about how – no matter how far off the beaten path your life’s trajectory has taken you the Kenyon Development Office is still able to get its fundraising letters to you!
“But whatever path you choose – and whether it leads you to a big city or a small town, make no mistake: the future of the country is in your hands. We are counting on you.
“So I will leave you with the words I tell everyone I hire: Don’t screw it up.
“Now, before I close, let me just say: I know that today’s job market is not easy. Don’t get discouraged. Persistence always pays off, sooner or later.
“If you are willing to work hard, you will find work. And if you continue to work hard, you will find opportunities that are rewarding.
“I can only tell you that I came from a family with no connections and no contacts.
“I wrote letters. I called. I asked friends to keep their ears open for opportunities.
“That’s probably why today, if I interview a recent college grad who tells me he or she spent the summer curing cancer, bringing peace to the Middle East, and writing the Great American Novel – I’m impressed.
“But I’m more likely to hire the person who spent his or her summer working days, nights, and weekends for an auto-body shop or a construction company in order to pay tuition or help with family bills.
“There is no substitute for hard work in this life – and if you’re willing to do it, if you’re eager to do it, you’ll do just fine.
“So tonight, when it gets to be Cove o’clock, have one last Mac and Cheese, then get to work.
“And in the months and years ahead – when life isn’t all cookie pies, hash brown triangles, and market dogs – remember:
“Keep learning, live courageously, work harder than everyone else and if you do, the fruits of your labor will be as plentiful and bountiful as Gourd-zilla!
“Congratulations – and best of luck!”
Julie Wood (212) 788-2958
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