Bard Commencement Address
Michael R. Bloomberg is the 108th mayor of the City of New York
The following is the text of Mayor Bloomberg's Commencement address:
"Thank you, Leon, for that kind introduction. I also want to thank the Trustees and Board of Governors for this honorary degree including Roger Scotland, who today is one of our policy advisors at City Hall. At Bard, though, Roger was captain of the legendary 1993 basketball team which had a perfect record: 0 and 25.
It's great to be at Bard not only because it is a school of distinction, a "place to think" and a campus nestled in one of the most beautiful parts of our state but where else can you enjoy 725 styles of architecture in one square mile, including the largest set of rabbit ears I've seen since my family bought an old RCA TV set back in 1961.
What's more, your esteemed president and I actually have a lot in common: We both have daughters who went to the same school, we are both ruggedly handsome, and we were both students of distinction. While Leon was at the top of his class, I was the kind of student who made the top half of the class possible.
Let me begin by congratulating today's graduating students. You should be very proud of yourselves. You've overcome so many obstacles to get to this day. I don't think I could have ever stepped in front of a Moderation Board as a sophomore or stepped in front of a Senior Project Board, like you've done this year. I went through a list of those Senior Projects, by the way and they're incredibly impressive: a study of labor movements in Latin America, a report on the economics of outsourcing, literary theses, musical compositions, photo essays, and one that caught my eye: "The Elucidation of a Reversible Color-generating Re-dox Reaction Involving Silver Oxide and Germanium Dioxide in a Therma-chromic Sodium Boro-silicate Glass."
That was exactly what I wanted to do for my college senior project. I just never learned how to spell it. Fortunately, there was no spelling test to become your commencement speaker. Speaking of which, I know I wasn't your first choice. I go on Facebook too, you know. But, at least I finished ahead of Ann Coulter and the guy who caused the head lice outbreak last semester.
I do promise to be brief. I know some of you got in rather late from the "Tent Party" last night and I don't want to be the biggest hurdle between you and your degree. However, before I impart those indispensable words of wisdom to you graduates, I want to say a little something about another important group here today.
I'm talking about your parents and relatives who 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. So let's give them a big hand. They deserve it!
Now, whenever I give 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? I know that many of you graduates will be moving to New York City after graduation. Actually, from what I understand, the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn has so many "Bardians," it's become an official post-graduate dormitory. But even if you don't move to the five boroughs, I hope you will make your way to New York City sometime in the near future.
I promise you: we will welcome you with open arms. Because the fact is the values and priorities that have been important to you at Bard are just as important to us in the Big Apple and I hope you will carry them with you for the rest of your life. What am I talking about? First, take our shared commitment to education.
Bard's commitment to education actually spans the globe: You're not only bringing free college humanities courses to Americans living in poverty through the Clementé and B-Cap program you've also helped found Smolney, the first liberal arts college in the former Soviet Union.
In New York City, we've also made education our top priority and we're transforming a public school system that was once mired in patronage and bureaucracy into a system that gives our children the skills they need to compete and succeed. In fact, at the forefront of this historic revolution is the Bard High School Early College on Manhattan's Lower East Side, which sends an amazing 95% of its students to college. And I'm pleased to say that in 2008, Bard is on track to open a second public school in our city.
Our second shared belief is in the power of the arts. The list of Bard alumni reads like a "Who's Who" of the world's most innovative and influential artists. And let me tell you no one appreciates great art more than New York City. Because not only do artists feed our collective spirit, they are often our city's great pioneers moving into neighborhoods that have been in decline, and reinvigorating them with their unique energy and creativity. The people who love art and make art may be the biggest reasons why New York is the greatest city in the world and such an incredible place to live, work, and raise a family.
Third, consider our shared love of public service. Whether it's the work Bard students have done to rebuild the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina or the Bard Prison Initiative, which is giving hundreds of inmates a renewed sense of purpose in life, you've demonstrated a true commitment to "giving back." Don't lose that passion.
It's perhaps the most important thing you can do with your lives and is what led me to take on the biggest challenge and the biggest risk of my life: running for mayor. Today, as someone who's 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.
The fourth value Bard and New York City share is a commitment to free expression. This campus more than almost any other is alive with opinion and debate. Nothing is off-limits. Even at Leon's famous "Open House" parties. You're encouraged to get engaged, to think for yourself, to question, to challenge. Some students, in fact, recently met with one of my staff at City Hall on issues of concern.
This is a good thing. And even when people do not agree you still maintain the respect to listen to each other which I believe is just as important. In New York, we're home to a wide diversity of opinions, beliefs, and faiths. And they are more than just tolerated they are celebrated. The result is that New Yorkers have an incredible curiosity, a valuable open-mindedness not to mention some very strong opinions about the world around us. It's the same with students at Bard. And those qualities are going to serve you well in the years ahead as you forge new ground in business, as you advance scientific discovery, fight hunger and disease, inspire audiences with your imagination and creativity as you change the world.
That's actually the fifth value we share both Bard and New York City are filled with people who not only dream of changing the world but do it. It might sound like one of those well-worn clichés but I urge you: Do not leave your idealism here on campus. Bring it to New York City or wherever you go.
Every generation of Americans has been defined by its response to the major challenges of its time. For your grandparents and the rest of the Greatest Generation, it was the threat of fascism. Your parents, who were part of the Baby Boomer Generation, fought to expand civil rights. But what about you? How are you going to be remembered?
You're not part of 'Generation X' and I don't think the "Internet Generation" does you justice. (And I'm not even going to suggest the Pepsi Generation.) Actually, I hope one day you will be known as the "Green Generation." That's because right now, we are facing the greatest environmental challenge in the history of mankind and unless we act soon we could wake up one morning and find ourselves living on a very different planet.
It's unclear exactly what the effects of global warming will be but scientists around the world have reached a clear consensus that climate change is a real issue with real consequences. We can no longer just sit back and hope that the problem will go away or that national governments around the world will take the lead. And if we wait for Washington to put our interests before the special interests we could be still be waiting at your 50th Reunion! No. It's up to us every one of us.
In recent months, New York City has assumed the fight against global warming with unprecedented intensity. That's not only because as a coastal city, we likely would feel the effects of climate change more than most but also because we share the responsibility for the problem.
True, we are one of the most environmentally friendly places on earth because so many of our citizens commute to work and school by mass transit and because our houses and apartments also tend to be relatively compact and built close together. But taken collectively, the world's cities consume roughly 75% of the world's energy and produce 80% of its greenhouse gases. So we certainly can't pat ourselves on the back and be complacent.
Instead, we've developed an innovative new strategy that will help us meet the challenges that climate change presents. And at its heart is a truly ambitious but vital environmental goal: reducing New York City's global warming emissions by 30% by the year 2030. There's a lot of talk in Washington about what we should be doing to cut our emissions. But let me tell you what we are doing.
First, we're trying to make the 900,000 buildings that comprise our city more energy efficient because they account for 79% of our greenhouse gas emissions.
Second, we're taking aim at our old, heavily-polluting power plants and working to replace them with newer, more efficient generators.
And third, we're going to reduce the number of vehicles on our streets by expanding our mass transit system, combined with a groundbreaking idea that I'm sure many of you have read about in the news. And that is charging a small fee at certain times for vehicles driving below 86th Street in Manhattan.
I completely understand the hesitation about congestion pricing. I was a skeptic myself, at first. But I've looked closely at the facts and the fact is, in cities like London and Singapore, fees have succeeded in reducing traffic and improving air quality. We'd be the first American city to experiment with congestion pricing and going first is always the toughest. But a problem of this magnitude demands that we think innovatively and act boldly. This isn't a time for shrinking violets.
No matter what the skeptics say, no matter what the odds are, you've got to do what you believe is right in the long run. And that's not a bad message to end with today. I have no doubt that the amazing experiences you've had at Bard are going to help you achieve great things.
Many of you are heading into the job market starting Monday morning. (That can be scary.) And some of you may take a little longer to find a job. (That can be scary, too.) My advice to you: don't worry about your salary or title right away.
Your first job should be something that will teach, humble, and exhilarate. Think of a school activity or project that you just loved doing, loved the people around you, and loved being there at all hours until the work got done.
That's how you want to feel at your job. That way, whatever you choose to do, you'll want to go in at 6AM, 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 around you those party animals who lived across from you in Tewksbury could be the next Steely Dan, that goalkeeper on the soccer team, the next Christopher Guest, that bookish philosophy major, the next Chevy Chase.
There will be ups and downs and sideways. I've been hired and fired, lauded and vilified. I've said some of the wisest 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.
I hope you feel that same sense of optimism. Because the future is in your hands and from everything I've learned about Bard I'm confident that the future is in good hands. So, to the members of the "Green Generation" grab one last brew at The Black Swan today because tomorrow, the real work begins!
Congratulations to you all on this wonderfully joyous day."