“Thank you, Dean Crowell. Friends, family, faculty, honored guests – good morning. And congratulations to the great class of 2013.
“I want to thank you for inviting me to speak, and for giving me this honorary degree. Graduates, after all your hard work – after all you’ve been through to get to today – I know what you’re all thinking: this guy gets a degree?
“How many Friday afternoons did he have to spend in legal writing class?
“How many hours of his life did he spend trying to get from the E building to the student lockers? Or trying to understand nunc pro tunc?
“How many happy hours did he have to go to at M1-5?
“How many registration emails did he have to write to Oral Hope?
“Well, the truth is that being mayor comes with certain honors: I’ve been named an honorary citizen of the Republic of Georgia, honorary ringmaster of Barnum and Bailey’s circus and I’ve even had a former City Councilwoman name me an honorary lesbian.
“But this honorary law degree is an entirely different thing, and it means a lot to me, especially coming from an institution as important to our City’s history and to our future as New York Law School – and coming, as it does, from someone who we were lucky to have in City Hall for 10 years: Dean Crowell.
“Now, let me start by telling you that as mayor, I generally don’t make a lot of lawyer jokes. Lawyers don’t think they’re funny – and the public doesn’t know they’re jokes.
“I’ll try to not make today the exception to that rule. But I will say that it’s pretty amazing that I should get an honorary law degree.
“It’s never been a secret how I feel about lawyers: they drive me totally nuts. They never give you a straight answer – and they never let you say in public all the things you’re just dying to say.
“After all the grief I’ve given my lawyers, I’m the last person I’d think would get an honorary law degree. But now that I have one, I guess I better stop complaining about lawyers.
“In any case, I’m thrilled to be here and to have a chance to impart a few bits of wisdom. The good news is, I’m not going to give this speech in the Socratic style – so don’t worry graduates, I’m not going to call on you.
“And there’s no need to raise your hands when I’m about to finish, just to get a better grade.
“But before I go any further, I want to acknowledge another very important group that’s here with us today: Your parents and relatives. Let’s give them a round of applause.
“They’ve been behind you all the way – and they’re sitting behind you today, full of pride and joy, as they should be. Because, for just the cost of tuition, they’ve scored themselves pro bono legal services for life.
“Now, class of 2013: You studied the texts. You learned the decisions. I’m sure you aced your exams. Today, you’re taking a big step in your career in law.
“You leave New York Law School well prepared.
“You’ve had an education in law, but also an education in life.
“You’ve spent the tough years of law school in the world’s most diverse and competitive city, where more than 200 languages are spoken and no one’s afraid to speak their mind in any of them.
“You’ve strengthened your power of argument – and widened your perspective – debating the law with peers from every background and walk of life.
“You’ve had conversations that changed the way you look at the world and that prepared you to make a lasting contribution to it.
“And, if you lived in the dorm on East 3rd Street, you maybe even made friends with a few Hell’s Angels.
“An education at New York Law School is unique for other reasons, too. This school occupies a special place in our city: it’s around the corner from City Hall, the courts and so much of City government.
“It also occupies a special place in our history. A hundred years ago this November, New York City elected an alumnus of this law school as mayor – John P. Mitchel, who was only 34 years old at the time, the second-youngest mayor ever to serve the City.
“Four years after Mitchel became mayor, he was defeated in his re-election bid by another alumnus of New York Law School: John F. Hylan. For the record, Hylan lived in Bushwick and sported a mustache – way before that was officially cool.
“Eight years after that, when the Tammany Hall political machine pushed Mayor Hylan aside, they nominated yet another member of this law school for mayor: James J. Walker, who was elected mayor in 1925.
“Of course, Jimmy Walker is usually not someone the Law School holds up as a model alumnus. During his time in City Hall, he made himself a lot richer – and not just because he doubled his own salary.
“When the press asked him about that, he replied: ‘Imagine what you’d have to pay me if I worked full time.’
“When it came time to investigate Jimmy Walker’s corruption, the man who was appointed to lead the investigation was a former member of the Court of Appeals and a candidate for Governor, Judge Samuel Seabury.
“Can you guess where he got his law degree? That’s right – New York Law School.
“So just as this City has played a big role in your law education, so too has this school played a big role in building the City we love today.
“For 19 consecutive years, an alumnus of New York Law School sat in the West Wing of City Hall – a record that no law school had matched before, and none has matched it since. In those 19 years, the City changed dramatically.
“Mayor Mitchel was a relentless reformer who helped root out corruption and patronage – professionalizing the City’s civil service system and adopting the country’s first-ever zoning resolution.
“Mayor Hylan built new public schools and laid the groundwork for the expanded subway system we know today.
“Mayor Walker built on Hylan’s vision for expanding the subway, while also developing new parks, including what is now the second largest park in Queens, Alley Pond Park and overseeing the development of new skyscrapers, including Rockefeller Center.
Together, those three New York Law School graduates – and many others – have helped make New York City what it is today: the world’s capital.
“Now, a hundred years after Mitchel was elected mayor, it’s time for a new generation of New York Law School graduates to make your mark on our City and on our world.
“Armed with the education you’ve received here, each of you can play a role building on the legacy of those alums, and the work of the many graduates who together forged this school’s great tradition of civil service.
“That includes governors, senators, secretaries of state and of course, Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan. It also includes – I’m very happy to say – graduates working today in the Corporation Counsel’s office, in our Law Department, at every City agency, and in every district attorney’s office.
“A lot has changed since the days of Mayor Mitchel, Mayor Hylan, Mayor Walker and Judge Seabury – but many of the challenges they faced are still with us.
“We still need more parks, schools and transit options; new economic development opportunities; and honest government – and over the past eleven years our Administration has made each a top priority.
“We’ve added more than 750 acres of new parkland – with another 2,000 acres on the way at Fresh Kills in Staten Island.
“We’ve created more than 650 new schools and 126,000 classroom seats, and given parents and students more education options than they’ve ever had.
“We’re about to launch the largest bike share program in the country, and we’re building the first new mile of City-funded subway track in decades: the Number 7 Train extension.
“We’ve rezoned nearly 40 percent of the city to encourage new development, and revitalized old industrial areas with new housing, jobs and green spaces. It’s the largest rezoning effort in 50 years, since the son of a New York Law School alumnus – Robert F. Wagner, Jr. – was mayor.
“We couldn’t have achieved any of that without the incredible work of lawyers at City Hall and throughout every City agency. Those lawyers have also done a tremendous job carrying on the legacy of Samuel Seabury by helping our Administration root out corruption in City government.
“I’m very proud that we’ve run the cleanest Administration in New York City history – but the work is never ending. If Judge Seabury could see the news out of Albany these days, he’d be rolling over in his grave.
“Nothing is more important in public service than integrity – and I know part of the formal motto of New York Law School is: ‘Live honestly.’
“Now, some might say they’ve never met a lawyer who follows that motto, but I disagree. And as a piece of advice to you as you move forward with your lives, it’s hard to improve on that. Many people might take that motto to mean honesty in following the letter and spirit of the law.
“I think it means much more than that.
“Living honestly means being honest with others – your clients, your partners, and the public. But it also means being honest with yourself.
“A good lawyer can argue any side of an issue. But that doesn’t mean every side is right. It’s a very useful skill to be able to see all sides of an argument. But never lose sight of what you believe is right and wrong – and never be afraid to tell that to your client, or your boss.
“If your client doesn’t want to hear something, he or she probably needs to hear it. The best advice is often the toughest to deliver. Don’t let that stop you. Your client may not like it – but ultimately, they will appreciate it. And they will respect you for it.
“That has certainly been my experience – as Dean Crowell can tell you. Especially in government, the last thing that an elected official or a commissioner needs is a ‘yes man.’
“The most important opinions inside any government – or any office – are often the ones that meet the most initial resistance. Do not be afraid to offer them. Conformity is the enemy of innovation.
“Listen to others and respect what they have to say, but think for yourself and speak for yourself – not just at work – but also when it comes to politics.
“I hope that the members of this class carry on the long tradition of New York Law School alums serving in government and running for office.
“Who knows: this class may well include a future mayor, or senator, or president or Supreme Court justice.
“Right now, we already have one U.S. Supreme Court justice from Manhattan, one from Brooklyn, one from Queens and one from the Bronx. So if there are any Staten Islanders out there – and I know there are – we’re looking at you.
“That would give New York City a majority on the bench – which would be very useful in case anyone ever tries to declare pizza illegal.
“Whether you plan to work for the public, private or nonprofit sector, I hope all of you will become part of the work of building a stronger society. After all of you pass the bar exam – and I know you will – you will be admitted to the New York Bar and expected to perform public service.
“I’ve worn a number of hats in my life – businessman; mayor; guest star on Gossip Girl.
“And I can tell you there is nothing more gratifying than serving the public, and there is nothing more exciting than doing it in a city with a tradition of leadership on all the big issues: from civil rights to public health, to public safety, to technological innovation, to climate change.
“New York City is the place that the rest of the world looks to in order to see the future. That was true in Mayor Mitchel’s day – and it is still true today.
“So it is my hope that, however you choose to use your degree, you’ll stay here in New York City and carry on the great tradition of New York Law School alums who have changed our city for the better.
“There are other great cities. But there is no city that offers you a bigger opportunity to have a bigger impact on the future.
“No matter what you choose to do tomorrow, all of you deserve a lot of credit for getting to today. I know, and your friends and families know, that a degree in law requires a tremendous amount of hard work.
“But you got it done, all while juggling your other responsibilities, while navigating life in the big city and while putting up with a little bit of construction down on Worth Street.
“In my mind, you all deserve a poster in the hallway of superheroes – right next to Spider-Man. You’ve shown you’ve got what it takes to succeed, and I know you all will.
“Congratulations to each and every one of you.
“Good luck on the bar, and let me leave you with one last piece of advice: call your parents every day – or at least until your student loans are paid off.
“All the best – and thank you.”