Remarks Made by
The Honorable Michael R. Bloomberg
Mayor, New York City
Undergraduate Diploma Ceremony
Krieger School of Arts and Sciences and
Whiting School of Engineering
Thursday, May 22 | Homewood Field
[Note: Prepared text; not checked against delivery.]
Good afternoon! Homewood Field looks absolutely amazing... the first time it's been used for Commencement, and the start of a new Hopkins tradition!
Since we're on the lacrosse field... Go Blue Jays! This weekend, I'm sure we'll beat Syracuse in the Final Four, avenging our only loss, and go on to win our 43rd national title.
Of all the places I've spoken this commencement season, Hopkins means the most to me, by far. It's my opportunity to come home. A place that I love. A place that was so instrumental in my life. I was privileged to attend this great institution, and I've been honored to have the opportunity to continue supporting it, as a trustee and through my involvement with the School of Public Health. It has certainly changed my life -- and I'm proud -- I tell people of the contributions to our country and to the world in medicine, engineering, public health, the arts and international affairs. And being invited back to get an honorary degree this morning and speaking to all of you is certainly the capstone of a lifelong relationship with Hopkins that will continue as long as I'm alive. Today though, I'd like to talk to the people who actually did all the work and got the real degrees -- you, the graduates of the Johns Hopkins class of '03.
Let me begin, however, by offering you a choice...
Being a big city mayor, I could talk to you about comparative theories of municipal planning...
...Or, having a technology background, perhaps an hour and a half on time-division multi-plexing...
...Or, as a former "C" student here at Hopkins, who got lucky and did pretty well for himself...
I could just tell you how to get a good job, make a lot of money, and go out and have a great time.
Which is it going to be?
You've made a wise choice... believe me! Particularly because I wasn't ready to talk about either of the other two things.
OK then, let's talk about your tomorrows... a place where your future will be determined by the choices you... and not by the choices others make. And you, the class of '03, will have more of them to make than perhaps any class in recent history. That's today's real subject.
Looking forward to the future with some apprehension? You should! In these uncertain times, it feels like there's a crisis around every corner -- and there is -- as I'm sure you're sensing, now that you're leaving the comfortable confines of Johns Hopkins. Whether you're heading to graduate school or into the job market, pretty soon you're going to have to put your own bread on the table, and -- given today's tough economic environment -- I know many of you don't know how that's going to happen. Difficult -- sure! But unlike the graduates of the dotcom era -- at least you don't have the disadvantage of thinking there's something for nothing. You'll be entering the job market with realistic expectations. You're going to have to work - - and at least you know it!
And here's something you may find difficult to believe, but if you accept it, comforting: Your career path is not likely to follow a straight line. You will get a job now or after the next degree -- even though many of you may not think so today -- and you don't have to assume that your first job will be your last. There'll be ups... and downs... and sideways-ez. You'll continue to have the opportunity -- and probably the necessity -- to make career choices throughout your lifetime.
Since I left Hopkins, I've been a graduate student, an employee, an employer, an entrepreneur and now a Mayor. I have been hired, I have been fired, I have been lauded and I have been vilified. But, as far I'm concerned -- at age 61 -- the best is yet to come! Almost every successful person I know is doing something different today, are radically different then from where they started. I've even had the good fortune to meet a former baseball team owner who is currently has the job of President of the United States.
In fact, if look around you -- that party animal you lived next to sophomore year in McCoy, could be the next Bill Gates... that lacrosse player, the next Condoleezza Rice... that engineering student down the hall, the next Yo-Yo Ma. Anything can happen... and it probably will.
Whether or not you go to graduate school, you'll have to pick a career eventually. When you're just getting started, my advice to you is don't worry so much about your salary. Even though I know you have to pay the bills, your first job should be something that will teach, expand, humble and exhilarate. Something that will help you acquire the personal and professional skills that will serve you throughout the rest of your life. Take the job that teaches you the most -- not the one that pays you a few extra dollars.
And to those of you who, considering the economy, who are going to have to wait a little bit longer to enter graduate school or the workforce -- the most important thing in the immediate future is to do something that lets you grow... something that will become part of your life in terms of experience, character and relationships. My suggestions, think of a community service initiative like the "Phi Psi 500." (Sorry, I had to get a plug in for my old fraternity.) Why not give it a try for six months? Volunteering for a non-profit, it will give you the experiences and contacts that will certainly go to build your resume. But no matter what choice you make -- or choice you're given -- you have to give it your all.
If your first job or your first graduate school isn't the job or graduate school of your dreams, which is not unusual... you must convince yourself that it is... and that will ensure the right attitude to succeed. In fact, and this applies to all of you, while luck plays a distinct part in success -- it's not gone unnoticed. The harder you work, the luckier you'll get. It's that simple. You may win the lottery -- but that's not a good long-term strategy to have. Nor is planning to put in a "nine to five" day. No -- you're going to have to invest the time and the sweat just like I did and everybody that's sitting behind you did. That's the hand you were dealt -- and you're going to have to play it! So don't focus on what you'd like, focus on the best of what's available. Pick what's in your interest long term -- convince yourself it is what you want -- and work at it as though it is!
If you do that, you will be a success. And that job or that graduate school will become the right one. Ok, that's my advice on picking the next place to go. What do you do once you know where you're going to go? You've got to choose how you'll do it. And here my message here is -- don't just hold yourself to high professional standards... hold yourself to high ethical standards. You read in the newspapers everyday about the scandals involving people who didn't do that. They may have known their businesses, or field of study, but they weren't honest. You'll find in life things won't always go smoothly. But acting on principle and integrity will carry you through the tough times. People respect those with a moral compass, and they'll give you a special break if they know you're honest and trying.
Also, remember you are not in this alone. You are judged by the company you keep. Make sure the people you work with can be counted on to help get the job done and to do the right thing. This is a complicated world... no single person has all the skills to solve the problems that face us. Things must be done collaboratively, cooperatively and collectively. Today, you share the pain... and the responsibility. Always use the words "we" and "us" -- get out of your mind the words "I" and "me." If you do that you will find that you will share in everybody's rewards. Let me tell you for a few seconds about some of the choices that I've made in my life; I think they'll illustrate some of what I'm saying.
The first part of my life wasn't full of life-altering choices... or at least I didn't recognize them as such. But at almost every crossroads I came to, things have worked out because I believed in myself and made the most of it. For example, I decided to go to Hopkins solely on the recommendation of a trusted summer boss. We didn't have the money to visit schools in those days. In fact, I didn't even see the campus until the day I arrived for my freshman year. It was a real leap of faith -- both for me... and in all fairness, Johns Hopkins for having me. But I remember getting out of the cab I took from the train station and seeing all the impressive Georgian buildings... and thinking -- "Wow! This is the most beautiful place in the world." You only get the experience arriving at your college once -- it's a seminal moment in your life. I knew I made the right choice to come to Hopkins before I even got my suitcase out of the trunk. And after four years -- despite not studying nearly as much as I should have, and despite only selecting courses that met on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday... I came away with a real appreciation for the excellence of this university.
After graduating -- and somehow getting into business school -- basically on the recommendation of Johns Hopkins, I took a job on Wall Street; starting out as a clerk and then rising through the ranks to become a general partner. As a working-class kid from a small town near Boston -- it was a great ride -- filled with fun times, hard satisfying work, and lots of praise -- right up until the day they fired me! Even though I'd been a loyal employee there I was 39 years old and terminated from the only full-time job I'd ever known.
But it was a great job. In retrospect, it taught me an enormous amount. I loved every minute of it. Even that last day when I knew I was heading out the door I loved it. But it was over. Not my choice... but done. I have never, ever in my life let myself look back and I didn't that day. Should've, would've, could've just aren't in my vocabulary. You've got to live for the future. Next. I was faced with several alternatives... and how I dealt with them then, back in 1981, turned out to define the rest of my life.
Winston Churchill once said, "The optimist sees opportunity in every danger; the pessimist sees danger in every opportunity." Even back then after getting fired, I was an optimist. I was like the kid who came home... found his bedroom floor covered in horse manure... and got a big smile on his face... because he knew there was a pony in there somewhere. Believe me, there are times at City Hall these days when it's hard to find that pony among the manure...but I have found that those who succeed in life usually do find the pony.
After getting fired, instead of taking a similar job, I took a chance on something I thought might be even better.
Literally the very next day after my employment ended, I started a new company. It sounded like a great idea to me. The problem was, for a very long time, nobody else agreed. We began with one room, one coffeepot, four employees... and no business. Everyday... for three years... people... colleagues... competitors... even family... would share their doubts with me. Everyone said we didn't have a chance. But we stuck with it.
Today, if I can be a little modest... that media company has done reasonably well.
This was my second great career ride. For twenty years, I was a success in business...but something interesting happened. I got restless. I began to notice friends who were in public service -- and they had found a satisfaction -- the satisfaction of helping others -- that I'd never experienced.
So about three years ago, I made another choice: to seek a third career. This time I wasn't being fired, this time it was my choice. You might think it was difficult to walk away from the company you had built and that was successful, but in fact, I think it's easier to leave a success than a failure. With the former, you've nothing left to prove -- with the latter, you'll always ask yourself what yourself "What could I have done differently if I stuck it out (inaudible)? Even though I was called "a hopeless long shot" by every political expert, I went for it... because the chance to try something new, something important, was just too exciting to pass up. And besides which, what do the experts know anyway?! All they focus on is what can't be done.
I hope you all have the opportunity to try something new, against all conventional wisdom at some time in your life - - and that you find the courage to go for it. My choice of public service is providing me with a sense of satisfaction unlike any other I have ever had. Now, most of you probably won't go into government for your first career -- but I urge you to get that same feeling -- while you're in graduate school... while you're in the commercial world -- try to contribute something in your spare time to your community. Work with a local non-profit organization... or a religious group... or even raise money for your alma mater. JHU Development Office will love you if you do that!
If can't find a job, or the next school, as I said before, why not volunteer for the next six months working full time for a nonprofit. Some of you will become educators, artists, businesspeople, clergy, musicians, lawyers and doctors eventually. Some of you may choose to serve in the armed services... and join the brave men and women who are, even as we speak at this very moment, putting themselves in harm's way to protect our freedom and security. And if you do decide on a career in public service, you'll always find that people are grateful for that choice, the choice that you've made, the choice to serve others. Let me tell you some of the things they have been saying about me and my dedication to helping others.
"Bloomberg should shut up!"
"Bloomberg is running a government by dictatorship!"
"The Mayor is favoring his friends -- and the polls say he doesn't even have any!"
"The only explanation for why Mayor Bloomberg is working so hard to destroy New York is his secret goal to help the Red Sox finally win the World Series." That last one came from my mother. She's a die-hard Red Sox fan.
But you know what? They'll never lay a glove on me. Because I'm going to succeed! I will make the tough choices! I will have the strength to stand by them! No matter what's said. Of course, the difference between being pigheaded -- and having the courage of your convictions -- is probably only in the results. I ask myself: am I making a difference to others? Every time, the answer is "yes" to that fundamental question. I know that I'm making a difference in my life. At the end of the day, I have to go home and like what I see in the mirror -- not the tabloids.
So in summary, let me give you a little bit of advice. Go to the best school that you can, get the best job you can, but in either case, whatever is offered to you, convince yourself it is exactly where you want to be. Attitude is everything. Work as hard as you can, you've got to get lucky -- go to work early and stay late, and be scrupulously honest at all costs. You are ultimately responsible for your success or failure. But you only succeed if you share the rewards with others. And that's the other secret is being together.
Have a good time. It's a sin not to enjoy everything God has given us. "All work and no play" does make one a misery I've always found, and probably hurts your career more than it helps.
And then -- when a unique opportunity comes along... and it will -- go for it! As Yogi Berra would say... "When you come to the fork in the road... take it!" And chances are, you'll be a success.
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