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Commencement Address: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg


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Commencement 2007

Graduates, faculty, family, friends. Jumbos, all of you, my official role here today is to be the first and probably the only one to say, Hurrah, hurrah for the dear old Brown and Blue!

Thank you for those kind words, President Bacow.

And thank you for greeting me so warmly. I understand that, typically, the only way to speak to President Bacow is to go jogging with him early in the morning. I was not up early in the morning to do that today, but I'm glad he managed to get through the rain and stop the rain. That's really very impressive. The president's job is to deliver a dry commencement. I can't stay around long enough to find out whether we get through the whole thing, but be sure you write and let me know.

The president and I actually have a few things in common: I don't know that many of you know this.

We were both Eagle Scouts...

We are both ruggedly handsome... [laughter] That was not the one you're supposed to laugh at.

And we were both students of distinction. While President Bacow was at the top of his class... I was the one of those students who made the top half of the class possible.

I also want to thank the Board of Trustees - including New York City's own comptroller Bill Thompson. Bill, you should know, has been comptroller of the city of New York for the same length of time I have been mayor, and I think he will go down in history as maybe the best comptroller the city has ever had. He's dedicated, he works hard and I'm just thrilled to be able to serve with him. When he called to invite me to come today, he didn't say "will you." He said, "You are coming." I always do what our comptroller tells us to do. And also Jonathan Tisch. Jonathan Tisch has been a friend of mine for many years. You should know if you called central casting and said, "Send me a great businessman philanthropist," Jonathan Tisch would show up. He and his family are legends in New York City in terms of not just their business acumen but their dedication to public service and to helping myriad institutions, and here on the Tufts campus, if you don't know the name Tisch, you really don't know what's going on. So thank you both.

Thank you for the honorary doctorate. My mother always wanted me to become a doctor. I grew up ten minutes from here; my father worked five minutes from here. My mother still lives in the house I grew up in, and she said since she was in the neighborhood she'd come over to hear me speak. Mother, I hope I'm not embarrassing you. You should know she dislikes the Yankees almost as much as most of you. Her reasons are different, however. She's never forgiven them for stealing Babe Ruth away - when she was 10 years old! She also said that while she was here if the people that live on Latin way would kindly keep the noise down she'd really appreciate it.

Now, I know I wasn't your first choice as speaker today, but that's OK, I can learn to live with that. When Busta Rhymes did not show up... I was only too happy to step in.

... And besides which... where else could I see a jar of elephant ashes on the desk of an athletic director?

..Or get a free pair of socks with every pizza I order at Pizza Days? Only in Medford.

But before I impart some indispensable words of wisdom to graduates, I want to say a little something about another group here today.

I'm talking about your parents and your 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...

... and some may actually have forgotten that you took part in something here called the "Naked Quad Run."

Maybe you want to give them a big hand. They deserve it!

In organizing my remarks for this morning, I was inspired by a legendary text that has changed the lives of millions.

No, I'm not talking about my autobiography, Bloomberg by Bloomberg - currently ranked number 512,340 on the Amazon.com list...

No, I'm talking about Robert Fulghum's classic self-help book, which was entitled All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.

I don't know how many of you have read it, but it was written about the time most of you graduates were born - and its thesis is that people master the basic principles for living a good life by the time they leave kindergarten.

Well, I don't think that it really happens that fast. And from what I know about Tufts - I think you got many of your most essential lessons right here.

So I've decided to write a little book just for this Commencement and I'm calling it: All You Really Need to Know You Learned By Commencement.

Mine, you'll be happy to know, is much shorter. Fulghum's book had 50 principles. I've trimmed it down to five. (One thing you learn by commencement is to be more efficient!)

You don't have to take notes, graduates - there isn't going to be a test.

But you've got to listen - because right now, I'm the only thing standing between you and getting your degree.

Principle Number One in my new book is: "You Gotta Take Risks."

I think you've really learned that if you think about it from your time here.

Whether it was asking someone out on a date in the North End... enrolling in a tough course like "Intro to I.R."... or calling your folks to ask them for more money...

... You took a lot of risks to get to this day - and... you're going to have to keep doing that for the rest of your life.

It's a competitive world out there. Everyone thinks they have the next great idea - but you'll find that the ones who actually succeed are those that take those great ideas and put them into action.

Let me tell you what I did in my life:

My first job out of school was on Wall Street and I stayed there for 15 years. It was a terrific ride: Fun times, and lots of praise from my bosses.

Everybody loved me - right up until the day they fired me!

But I remained optimistic - because happiness for me has always been going out and trying to beat the odds.

So the next day after I got fired, literally the next day, I started a new company.

It began by taking a risk - a risk that my friends and family subtly, but persistently - and with only good intentions – really tried to talk me out of.

But today, thank God, that business is pretty successful, I'm happy to say... and my daughters are particularly happy to say that.

The second lesson is... "You Can't Do It Alone."

This is something else you've learned from your time here.

After all, teamwork is a major part of any group project - whether you are singing harmony with The Bubs, the singing group here... or painting and guarding the cannon.

Every Little League coach, Sunday school teacher, and Scout leader has always told you all your life that teamwork counts. But I've got some bad news for you. The bad news is that it doesn't just count when you're young. It counts when you're an adult, as well. It's a complex world... and no single person has all the skills to solve all the problems or really any problems.

Working collectively and collaboratively is the difference between mediocrity by yourself...or success as a team.

You have to share the pain... and the responsibility... and if you do then you will also share in the rewards.

In New York, I've tried to encourage teamwork at City Hall by literally tearing down the walls and forcing everybody to work in one big room so that they will interact better with one another.

My senior staff calls it "The Bullpen." Everyone sits in a cubicle - including me. They didn't like it at the beginning but today I think they would tell you it creates a lot of energy. It brings people together and it also allows me to see whose lunch looks better than mine.

But working together, you can’t think of any job that you can do totally by yourself. You’re going to find as you go through life that if you get rid of the words “I” and “me” out of your vocabulary and replace them with “we” and “us” you will do a lot better.

The third principle in All You Really Need to Know You Learned By Commencement is..."Give It To Them Straight."

You've probably heard your professors tell you over and over again, "stick to the facts." And they're right: there's no better way to make your point and win your argument. And even those who disagree with your conclusion will respect you for being honest and having the guts to tell it like it is.

We've pursued a number of controversial things in New York - and by sticking to our guns and by sticking to the facts, I think we've won a lot of people over. For example, our smoking ban in bars and restaurants, for instance. [Applause] Yes, thank you. Yeah, where were you when I put it in first?

As you can imagine at the beginning, I wasn’t the most popular person in the city. I was actually almost as unpopular as the people who planned the Big Dig. But the facts are the facts. The science is real. Second hand smoke kills. And that's what drove our message. And now – this is literally true – I will go into bars and restaurants and waitresses will come up to me and give me a kiss, and tell me they were originally against the ban but now they give me credit for saving their lives.

What you’ve got to do is be honest. Say what you believe. Give it to them straight. Just don’t wuss out.

The fourth lesson is... in the words of Ali G... is "Respect." Don't worry, I'm not going to start quoting Borat. Respect is so important - especially in times of conflict. And I think a lot of you here know what I'm talking about.

This past December, The Primary Source – which is a campus magazine – printed some things that much of the community ardently disagreed with and many considered quite offensive. But instead of suppressing the publication (which might very well have happened on other campuses) and despite the emotion of the moment, I think the students and the faculty and all of Tufts University deserve an enormous amount of respect because you respected the rights of others to express themselves. You discussed the piece... you debated it... you picked it apart. It was a classic example of free speech versus free speech. And in that battle, I’ve always thought everybody wins.

This country - and other campuses around the nation - needs more of that. And I’ve always wondered if people who block each other from expressing their opinions do so because they have so little confidence in their own. To me, encountering an opposing point of view is a chance to gain a deeper understanding of the issues at stake... and develop my own point of view. But the first thing you’ve got to do is you’ve got to let people speak and you’ve got to listen. And that’s what the first amendment is all about. That’s what really distinguishes this country from others.

In my generation, the one word of advice you gave to graduates was "plastics." Your parents will have to explain that to you. But today, I think the one word of advice should be the word "respect."

The Fifth and final principle in the Bloomberg book is "The more you give, the more you get."

Tufts has an incredibly strong tradition of public service and volunteering. Through Tisch College and the Leonard Carmichael Society, most of you have experienced what it's like to get involved in the community and make a real difference. Don't lose that passion when you get out of here and go into the real world.

Now I've done a lot of cool things: I've thrown out the first pitch at both a Yankees and Mets game... I’ve dropped the ball in Times Square on New Year's Eve...and both Salma Hayek and Derek Jeter call me “Mike.” But those thrills really are fleeting – and believe it or not – ultimately not as fulfilling. The thrills that stay with you forever are the thrills of doing something and giving something back.

It's perhaps the most important thing you can do with your lives. Throughout my business career I’ve always tried to give back, whenever and wherever I could. In 2001, my desire to make a difference led me to the biggest challenge - and the biggest risk - of my life: devoting myself to public service. Despite the best advice from family and friends and the Democratic party, I decided to spend eight years earning a dollar a year and getting yelled at. Now, as somebody who's in the position to see up-close-and-personal the personal impact that public service can have, let me tell you that there is nothing you will ever do in your life that will give you as much satisfaction. If you go and help others, when you turn out the light every night, you’ll have a big smile on your face for the rest of your life.

So there it is, my five principles: "take risks"... "don't go it alone"... "give it to them straight"... "respect others"... and "give back." These are the only five things you need to remember to have a successful life. Actually, there's a sixth - Don't forget to call your mother, which I do every day, but that’s okay.

Whenever I come to the conclusion of a commencement address I always face the same dilemma: How can you tell the graduates that the future is in their hands without frightening the rest of the audience?

But the truth is, and I have no doubt that the amazing experiences you've had at Tufts are really going to help you achieve great things, many of you are heading into the job market starting tomorrow morning. That can be scary. And some of you may take a little longer to get a job. That can be very scary.

But my advice to you is: don't worry about your salary or your title right away. As President Bacow will tell you, "It's a marathon, not a sprint." The first job you get should be something that will teach and humble and exhilarate. Just think of any of the projects you've been involved with here on this campus- like the Tufts Community Union Senate, or the Mountain Club where you go hiking, or the Zamboni magazine.

Just think about one of those things that you really loved and loved the people around you and loved being there at all hours until you got the work got done. You want to make sure you feel that about your job. Because if you’re going to be successful, the other piece of advice that I can give you is: be the first one in in the morning, be the last one there at night and never take a sick day. If you want to succeed, I’m sorry, but that’s exactly what you’re going to have to do. The world is build around hard work. Success is a measure of hard work. And while luck certainly plays a part in success, you will notice that the harder you work, the luckier you'll get. And so if you really want to share in the great American dream, and have the great things, and really have a smile on your face, work hard, but make sure that you enjoy it.

And don't despair if your career path doesn't follow a straight line. There are plenty of successful people who are doing things that are radically different from where they started. Look around you - that party animal who lived across from you in South Hall may very well be the next Meredith Viera, or that sophomore working the front desk at the Gym could be the next Bill Richardson, the governor, or that bookish grad student, the next Peter Gallagher.

There will be ups, there will be downs, there will be sideways. I can just tell you I have been hired, I have been fired, I have been lauded, I have been vilified. I've said some of the most brilliant things that just by accident appeared on my tongue, and I’ve said some of the dumbest things that you could imagine. But each day - even the day that I knew I was going to be fired - I looked forward to because I've always believed that tomorrow was going to be the best day of my life.

Now, for you it’s going to be challenging at times - but the world, ever more, needs your talent, your ideas, your energy, your great enthusiasm. And you really need to know this: everyone here is proud of you and everyone knows you've got what it takes to find success and live out your dreams.

So grab one last brew at The Joshua Tree today – because tomorrow, the real work begins! Congratulations to all of you on this wonderful and joyous day.


This story originally ran on May 20, 2007.