The following is the text of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s speech as prepared. Please check against delivery.
“Thank you, President Tilghman, for that kind introduction. And good afternoon, to the great Class of 2011. I’m very honored that you invited me to give this year’s baccalaureate address – even though I hear I was your second choice, after that junior on the basketball team who hit the game-winning basket against Harvard. Doug Davis – wherever you are – thank you for not being available.
“I really welcomed this opportunity. I wasn’t going to give it up for anything. I’ve been working on my remarks all year. I met with my thesis advisor last September. I’ve been churning out 80-100 pages, and I turned it in right before the deadline during the second week of April. I even got the thing bound over at Triangle Printers.
“So I’ve been raring to go. I showed up last night hoping to settle in and get a good night’s sleep. Only when I arrived, you were apparently having some type of pagan beer-drinking festival with lots of people wearing orange and black tank tops and jockey shorts. And, after all that, there was no place for me to sleep. I couldn’t even get into Bloomberg Hall. But I found something to pass the time. It was Karaoke Night at the Ivy Inn. And here I am today – still in good voice – and ready to offer some thoughts that you graduates will undoubtedly cherish word-for-word decades from now.
“First, however, let me recognize another very important group here this afternoon: I’m talking about your proud parents, friends, and relatives, who are here to support you on this great day. I think they deserve a big hand. And let’s not forget: They have travelled hundreds, if not thousands, of miles to be here today – and paid more money than they want to remember – only to be told to go sit outside. Parents: I’ve been there. When my daughter, Emma, graduated, I was dying to know what the inside of this chapel looked like.
“Graduates: You’re happy to be moving on, but this final weekend inspires more than a few bittersweet emotions. No more lawn parties after you leave here. You’ll have to start paying to do your laundry. That’s right: There is no free lunch in the real world – or, in your case: no free brunch with a lavish omelet bar. Life can be cruel, graduates. Even worse: You’re leaving now – and next year’s seniors are slated to get the highest grades in Princeton history – since Dean Malkiel is also leaving. Bad timing, folks – what can I say?
“Still, let’s focus on the bright side of your departures. This is a moment when you inevitably look back at the past four years and remember all the good times you’ve had and all the challenges you’ve overcome. And it takes place, appropriately enough, on Memorial Day weekend – when we, as a nation, also remember.
“We remember the men and women who served our nation in uniform – and gave their lives to defend our country and guarantee our freedom. They died so that you could say what you wish, worship as you wish, live as you wish. So, before you embark on your new adventures beyond Fitz Randolph Gates, let’s take a moment to remember what obligations we owe to them and what responsibilities we carry with us.
“First, we must remember that it’s up to us – not just our military – but all of us to stand up and defend it when we see freedom threatened or denied. That’s why, for instance, I’ve spoken out in support of Ai Weiwei, an artist who was scheduled to open an exhibit in New York City, but who has been detained indefinitely by Chinese authorities. It’s why I’ve strongly defended the rights of New York City’s Muslim community to build a mosque and community center in Lower Manhattan. And it’s why I’m urging the New York State Legislature to support a bill that would grant marriage equality to all men and all women.
“For me, this is an issue of fundamental freedom and fairness – and the fact that your generation overwhelmingly supports marriage equality is one of the reasons I am so hopeful for the future. Your generation is tearing down walls here at home – and across the world. The revolutions for freedom that now spread like wildfire in the Arab world burn with the anger from decades of suffering and repression.
“But they were lit, in part, by technology that was developed by your generation. No other generation has started revolutions from half-way around the world. Yours has. And you’re only just beginning. There may be no greater way to repay those American soldiers who died for our country than to spread the freedoms Americans enjoy around the world. So keep it up.
“The more we give people the opportunity to express themselves, the more we tear down the barriers to full equality, the brighter our future will be. As we stand up for the freedoms our soldiers have died protecting, we also owe it to them to do what’s best for our nation – not what’s easiest or most popular.
“In 1917, in his address to Congress asking for a declaration of war, your fellow Princetonian, President Woodrow Wilson, said, ‘What’s right is more precious than peace – and we shall fight for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts.’ This is the kind of courage and determination that built our nation – that made America a beacon of liberty and a laboratory for progress.
“And yet, in government, too often what’s right is less precious than winning re-election. Coming from the private sector, I never cease to be amazed by how many highly intelligent people follow the party line instead of doing what they know in their hearts to be right.
“Don’t fall into that trap. Don’t play by their rules. Don’t follow the crowd. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that one party is 100% right 100% of the time – and the other party is always dead wrong. History shows that no party has a monopoly on good ideas, or God on its side.
“Don’t forget what you’ve been taught here at Princeton. You have all been fortunate to be part of an institution that’s always put an emphasis on practical thinking, real-world solutions and sticking to the facts.
“Don’t forget that – because there’s no better way to understand problems and solve them. The extreme partisanship in Washington is hurting the country – on issue after issue. And the big problem with partisanship isn’t that the two sides disagree on everything and nothing gets done. It’s that they actually agree on about 75% of the issues, but they’d rather fight to score political points than make peace to forge progress.
“Nevertheless, it’s very encouraging to me that independents are the fastest-growing bloc of voters in the country – and I’m especially encouraged that young people like you are leading the way. It’s another sign that your generation is ready to create a brighter future for our country and our world.
“I’d like to ask you to remember one more obligation we owe those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for us. It’s something that all of you are familiar with. It’s part of Princeton’s informal motto: ‘In the nation’s service and in the service of all nations.’ I’m talking about service and volunteering. 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. And they have.
“Lide Paterno, for instance, graduated from Princeton five years ago – and, with the help of his classmates, has worked to improve educational opportunities in a small village in northern Tanzania. Rishi Jaitly, from the Class of ‘04, has founded a national nonprofit with the goal of boosting the economy and fortunes of one of America’s hardest-hit states: Michigan. And I have no doubt that your class will produce its own social entrepreneurs who will strive to change the world.
“In my life, I’ve found that service is one of the most rewarding things you can do. It’s what led me to take on the biggest challenge – and the biggest risk – of my life: running for mayor. And 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.
“As busy as you will be in your careers, and as you start families, always find time to give back to others. We are a nation of volunteers. It is the glue that binds us together as Americans – and the fact that your generation is more active in service than any before it is an incredibly hopeful and encouraging sign for the future.
“So on this Memorial Day weekend – on a weekend you’ll never forget for the rest of your lives – remember not just the soldiers we have lost in battle, but what we owe them.
“Make the most of your freedom – and defend everyone’s right to it.
“Seek the truth – by asking your own questions and coming to your own conclusions.
“Give back – and you will be repaid many times over.
“And in everything you do, work hard. Take risks.
“Do what you love and figure out a way to get paid for it.
“Never stop learning. Never compromise your integrity. Never, never give up.
“And – most importantly – always call your parents. Remember how they were forced to sit outside one day in May.
“And all of this applies whatever your next step after graduation may be. Whether you are about to enter the world of banking and finance, or – well, I guess that pretty much covers everybody.
“No doubt, it’s going to be challenging at times. But I know that your talent, your energy, and your vigorous commitment to the truth will shine through. Congratulations and good luck.”