2012 Commencement Remarks by Mayor Michael Bloomberg


The following is the text of Mayor Bloomberg’s remarks as prepared for delivery:

“Good morning, graduates, faculty, family, and friends – each and every one of you a ‘Dip.’ President Porterfield, thank you for that kind introduction. Let it be known that the President has been an extremely gracious host. I even went over to his office for ice cream, and we tweeted together.

“To the great Class of 2012, I hail thee, gallant White and Blue. This is your day. I promise to keep this brief – because I know many of you are still recovering from your trip down to Myrtle Beach. I wouldn’t want the biggest hurdle between you and your degrees to be me.

“But before imparting some of my invaluable, indispensible words of wisdom, 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. So let’s give them a big hand. They deserve it.

“Being asked to speak at Franklin & Marshall is really exciting for me. After all, more than 200 students here happen to come from the greatest city in the world – New York, New York. One of your graduates, a member of the Class of 2010, is even working in my office – Shadoe Tarver.

“And I’ve long considered many other F&M grads trusted voices and advisors – including one of the nation’s premier political consultants, Bill Knapp; the former chair of the Republican National Committee, Ken Mehlman; Ronald Reagan’s chief of staff, Ken Duberstein; and my First Deputy Mayor, Patti Harris. So you see, I just had to be here.

“I’m ready for this moment – and I know you are, too. You’ve been through so much during your time on campus – you survived four years at what Newsweek’s Daily Beast called ‘the fourth most rigorous college or university in the nation.’ You survived the closing of Quiznos and Pandini’s.

“You survived hours and hours of looking for a parking spot – only to find, upon returning to the spot, that your car had been towed. Some of you survived sleeping in the basement of Schnader and Brooks. Many of you survived the health and hygiene standards at Hildy’s Tavern – which I understand are, shall we say, a little relaxed.

“And all of you survived watching the New College House being built – the amazing palatial dormitory with its beautiful rugs and study spaces – knowing that you’d never live there. Yes, you survived – but you also thrived here.

“Name me another school where freshman can attend seminars in their pajamas or where the basketball team had such a momentous run to the Elite Eight – under the winningest coach in Division 3 history, Glenn Robinson. Name me another senior class whom the faculty and administration will be so sad to see go – that a legendary Dean – Dean ‘S’ – has decided to retire, rather than continue on. Or a senior class who were able to see Obama and McCain their first year and then Lupe Fiasco their last.

“Parents, in case you don’t know who Lupe Fiasco is, get with it. ‘The Show Goes On’ – and you know, that’s actually a good theme for today. Starting in about an hour, the show really does goes on for you as you leave here and begin the next stage of your lives. The only question is: what kind of show will it be?

“Will you go straight into the workforce? Will you join a program like the Peace Corps or Teach for America? Will you go back to school to get another degree? Or will you take some time to travel the world? It’s your show – and far be it from me – or anyone – to create it for you, but whatever you decide to do, I sincerely hope you will live up to the examples set by the two men for whom your school is named: Founding Father Ben Franklin and Chief Justice John Marshall.

“Each of them, in their own remarkable ways, dedicated their lives to serving this great country and to building the freest nation on earth. And these two qualities – the duty to serve and the spirit of independence – are exactly what I want to talk about today.

“Let me begin with independence – which is so fundamental to our identity as Americans. It’s the conviction behind our nation’s founding and the driving force behind its success. And yet, I look at Washington today and I see a serious challenge to our spirit of independence. It’s standard operating procedure when Democrats propose an idea, for Republicans to oppose it – and vice versa – just because it’s not their idea.

“Both groups believe passionately that they are right and the other is wrong – because neither group questions the assumptions underlying their own party’s positions. I learned a long time ago – back when I was in the private sector – that you should never accept the status quo, and never accept something just because ‘that’s the way it’s always been.’

“When I was relegated to a dead-end job at my old firm, Salomon Brothers, I looked at some of the technology and thought: why can’t we do it differently – and better? No one was interested in that. When you belong to a group – whether it’s a company, or a nonprofit, or a political party – you tend to accept their way of doing things.

“Don’t. Ask dumb questions – because chances are, they won’t be so dumb. Take an idea – and then turn it on its head. After all, if Ben Franklin had accepted the way things were, we might still be turning on the lights with a match. The most valuable service you can perform for any organization – and for your country – is to think independently.

“Now, sometimes it comes with a price. I was fired from my job. And F&M’s commencement speaker last year, Republican Senator Dick Lugar – just lost in a primary this week, because he had been such an independent voice in Washington.

“Senator Lugar forged a career as one of the most respected members of the United States Senate by thinking for himself, and reaching across the aisle on the issues that matter most to Americans. He was someone who was always willing to stand up for what he believed in – even when it meant disagreeing with members of his own party. And for that, he lost his job.

“But it wasn’t only Senator Lugar who lost; we all did. Senator Lugar’s commitment to independence is exactly what America needs right now. We need it in every industry – but especially in politics. No matter how much of a diehard Democrat or Republican you may be, I have news for you – no party has a monopoly on truth, or God on its side.

“So whether you belong to a political party or not – be an independent thinker. Turn ideas on their head. Look at them from different perspectives. It may be lonely at times; it may make you unpopular at times; it may be dangerous to your career. But independence lies at the heart of innovation – and progress.

“So the next time someone tells you why something can’t be done, or why something is the best idea or the worst idea, remember Ben Franklin and his spirit of independence. The absence of independence in Washington has produced gridlock on the nation’s most serious problems, which means that it’s up to the rest of us to stand up and be counted.

“And that brings me to the second concept I want to discuss today – service. As one of my favorite authors once wrote: ‘I’ve always respected those who tried to change the world for the better, rather than just complain about it.’ That quote is from a stirring autobiography written more than 10 years ago – namely, mine. But if I believed it back then, I believe it even more now – and I’m especially encouraged by what I see here at this college. The spirit of service is stronger than ever in F&M’s class of 2012.

“After all, before your very first day of classes as freshmen, you all did some kind of community service through the ‘Pit’ program. And whether it’s the work that students in the ‘Human Rights-Human Wrongs’ course have done to help political asylum seekers, or what student athletes do every spring to clean up Lancaster, or what members of the VITA program have done to help low-income residents of Lancaster collect more than $700K in tax credits, many of you have continued to give back during your four years here.

“Service is a core part of the F&M experience. There’s a line about it in your school song. I won’t sing it, but it literally says: ‘We’ll give the world our service.’ My advice to you: Don’t forget that. Don’t ever lose sight of that responsibility. I’ve done a lot of cool things: I’ve thrown out the first pitch on Opening Day; I’ve starred in an episode of ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ and yelled at Larry David; and I’ve danced with Lady Gaga on New Year’s Eve. But those thrills are fleeting – believe it or not – and ultimately not very fulfilling

“The thrills that really stay with you forever – I’m sure many of you know – are the ones you get from giving back to your community. And as someone who is in the position to see up-close the real impact of public service by millions of New Yorkers, I can tell you – every minute of service helps in more ways than you can count. As busy as you will be in your careers, and as you start families, I urge you to always find time for some kind of service.

“After all, we are a nation of volunteers. It’s the glue that binds us together as Americans. I think one of the encouraging things to come out of the aftermath of 9/11 is a renewed spirit of service. Americans of all backgrounds – but especially your generation – want to do more to help the world. I think it’s fantastic that the number of F&M seniors going off to ‘Teach for America’ has tripled this year. That says a lot about this class – and it’s an encouraging sign for the future.

“In New York City, we’ve worked to build on this spirit of service – and you won’t be surprised to learn that an F&M Alum has spearheaded the effort: Patti Harris. Patti is one of my closest, most trusted advisors. When I ran my company, Patti was in charge of philanthropy. And then, after I was elected mayor, I made her my first deputy. In fact, she’s the only woman to be first deputy mayor in the history of New York City. At the same time, she also runs my charitable foundation, which is funding global initiatives in a number of areas – like public health, education, the environment, the arts, and government innovation.

“At City Hall, Patti’s in charge of a lot of things – including the difficult task of making sure I say nothing dumb. But one of her signature achievements during our Administration is realizing my vision for making New York the easiest city in which to serve. This initiative is called NYC Service, and over the past three years, we’ve recruited and mobilized more than 1.8 million volunteers.

“We’ve strategically deployed them across the city in ways that can help us achieve our ambitious agenda in health, education, fighting poverty, and other goals. For instance, some are conducting free fitness classes in neighborhoods where there’s a high incidence of obesity. Others are painting the roofs of buildings in a reflective white coating to reduce energy costs and shrink our city’s carbon footprint. And many others are working in our schools, mentoring middle-school students and helping them reach their full potential.

“NYC Service is the first time an American city has undertaken a focused effort to direct volunteers to its most pressing challenges. It’s been so successful that we’ve committed to helping other cities launch their own service programs; more than 100 cities around the country are now involved. NYC Service is also a reflection of everything Patti and I believe in – that everyone can serve and give back, and that there’s nothing more important or more rewarding that we can do with our lives.

“Speaking of ‘giving back,’ I think I’d be remiss in not mentioning that one of the first ways you can give back is to your school. Actually, one of the first donations I ever made was to my own alma mater, Johns Hopkins. It was the year after I graduated, and I dug down deep and sent them $5. Pretty generous, I thought. But it kicked off a career of giving to Johns Hopkins – and last month, in one of the most satisfying moments of my life, I cut the ribbon on a new children’s hospital on campus, named for my mother.

“Give back to your school and, I promise, the rewards will be even greater. I’ve always felt a twinge of pride whenever someone from Johns Hopkins makes a scientific breakthrough or wins a Nobel Prize, because I can’t help but feel that I played a part in that – however small. So pledge to a life of serving and making a difference – and consider starting with your school.

“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 of the world is in their hands without frightening the rest of the audience? But the truth is, I have no doubt that the amazing education and experience you’ve had at Franklin & Marshall is going to help you achieve great things.

“Some of you are heading into the job market starting Monday morning. For some of you, that may take a little longer. My advice to you: don’t worry about your salary or title right away. Your first job – whether it’s your dream job or a temporary one that you’ve taken until the economy improves – should be something that will teach, humble and exhilarate. That way – whatever you choose to do – you’ll want to go in at 6:00 AM; stay until midnight; give it your all; and it won’t even seem like a sacrifice.

“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. And don’t despair if your career path doesn’t follow a straight line. Plenty of successful people are doing things that are radically different from where they started. Look at me: I was an electrical engineering major in college. I thought I’d make a terrific electrical engineer. Trouble was: none of my professors thought so – which is why I went to business school.

“Throughout your life, there will be ups and downs and sideways. I’ve been hired and fired – lauded and vilified. I’ve said the most brilliant things that just appeared on my tongue, and some of the dumbest things you could imagine. But each day – even the day that I knew I was going to be fired – was a day I looked forward to because I’ve always felt that tomorrow will be even better.

“It’s going to be challenging at times – but the world, more than ever, needs your talent, your ideas, your energy, your great enthusiasm and above all, your spirit of independence and service. So grab one last brew at Hildy’s today – because tomorrow, the real work begins. And the show goes on.

“Congratulations to you all on this wonderfully joyous day.”

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Contact: Stu Loeser / Julie Wood (212) 788-2958