SPEAKER: Ladies and gentlemen, please rise, and join us in the singing of our national anthem.
[MUSIC, "STAR SPANGLED BANNER"]
Oh, say, can you see by the dawn's early light what so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming, whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous night, o'er the ramparts we watched were gallantly streaming?
And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night that our flag was still there. Oh, say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave o'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
RONEAL DESAI: Good morning, family, friends, honored guests, Mayor Booker, and most importantly, graduating members of the Class of 2013.
My name is Roneal Desai. And it is my honor to welcome you to the beginning of Cornell's 145th commencement weekend. It's funny to think that less than four years ago, many of us sat in these very same seats while President Skorton introduced us to our lives here at Cornell at the 2009 New Student Convocation.
Strangely enough, I think the pantheon of different ways we spent that morning would foreshadow our eventual lives here on the Hill. Some of us opened up to our peers, revealing the incredibly intimate details of what our hometown and major were. These would be considered our class socialites. Others came here and only spoke to the five people that happened to live at their end of the hall in Clara Dixon, Muse, Donlon, or Court-Kay-Bauer, at the time oblivious to the fact that these would be our roommates, confidants, and best friends over the next four years of our lives.
I personally felt as though my actions during that ceremony truly epitomized my time here at Cornell, seeing as how I stayed out too late the night before and slept through the whole thing.
So sorry, Mom and Dad. I guess now is as good a time as ever for a few confessions. I figured you couldn't get at me while I was up here in front of everyone. I didn't exactly have perfect attendance over the last couple of years. The reason I didn't pick up your phone calls on Saturday night isn't exactly because there's no reception in the basement of the library. And despite what I said about my credit card statement, Pixel isn't an electronics store and the B in level B doesn't stand for Bookstore. Hopefully you guys can learn to forgive me.
In all seriousness, being an undergraduate at Cornell has allowed me to witness the true potential of our generation. Some of these examples are easier to find than others. Our class boasts among its members national award recipients for public service and academics, athletic champions that have topped not just the nation, but the history books, and perhaps the most impressive of all, the 12 students who have dedicated their lives to the safety of our nation that were commissioned as second lieutenants and N-Sons in the US Military this morning as members of the ROTC program.
But there are other examples that sometimes go less noticed but, in my eyes, are just as meaningful. From the student who helped pull an all-nighter to help their friend study for a test or prepare for an interview-- to the student who works an extra shift at their on-campus job, in order to pay their way through school-- to the student who makes the sacrifice of living at home the first year after graduation to help their parents pay for tuition or even save for their younger brother or sister's education-- the actions and principles of our class have truly represented humanity at its best.
Over the last four slope days and the Avicii concert last fall, we've probably also represented humanity at its worst. But as Cornellians, I think we can all agree to let those slide.
When all is said and done, this class will define a generation. We received both our acceptance letters and our diplomas from Cornell months after two of the most historic elections in US history. The economic crisis that most of us were naive to in high school has given us the opportunity to not just chase the American dream, but to redefine it.
I have no doubt that the students of the Class of 2013 will be remembered not as individuals who let their circumstances define their actions, but rather, those who let their actions define their legacy. I think I speak not just for myself, but for the world when I say that I am excited to see what that legacy is.
But that being said, before we get ahead of ourselves, let's take a chance to celebrate the history we've already written here above Cayuga's Waters. And with that, I welcome you all to this year's graduation weekend. Thank you.
I would now like to introduce my friend Anna Fowler, President of the 2013 Class Council to deliver the senior class address.
BRIANNA FOWLER: Good afternoon. Thank you to everyone who is here today-- President Skorton, distinguished faculty and staff, parents, siblings, friends, and especially to my peers who are graduating. My name is Anna Fowler, and I am the President of the Class of 2013.
When I was applying for colleges and deciding where I wanted to study, I had my choices pretty well narrowed down. But what helped me decide on Cornell was my accepted students visit. I sat front row for a speech given by President Skorton. He talked about a type of endangered Chinese mushroom that Cornell had been restoring since 1940. After decades of care and preservation, these native mushrooms were finally returned home from our university on April 13, 2009.
To this day, I still remember listening to this story and really appreciating what Cornell could do, not only as a university, but also as a research institution, a preservation society, and a humanitarian organization. I clearly remember thinking that this was a family I wanted to become a part of. When I arrived as a freshman, I was excited to see what aspects of Cornell I could experience and take advantage of. During orientation, there were a variety of clubs fairs and countless quarter cards being passed around, asking people to get involved on campus.
It was overwhelming trying to decide which groups would be right for me. So I decided to get involved with a club whose mission was to unite as many Cornellians as possible and get to know a large portion of the student body. I joined Class Council and ran for president of my class.
As our president, I thought it my responsibility to connect with as many students as possible and really get a feel for what my peers were interested in. To achieve this goal, I reached out to each undergraduate organization and asked if I could sit in on one of their meetings. I figured that the best way to see what people really care about was to experience the very organizations in which they freely elected to devote their time.
Over 200 people responded, inviting me to their meetings. I attended Wushu Club and Live Action Role Players. I went to the Big Red Pep Band's practice, Jazz Voice's rehearsal, Habitat for Humanity, countless dance troops and a Capella groups, and many more. I went to one organization whose sole goal was to turn off lights in buildings when people weren't using them.
I experienced clubs about foreign language, film screenings, mixed martial arts, environmental activism, religion, scholarship, business, finance, and engineering. I even got to be the golden snitch in one of Cornell's quidditch matches. There was a club for anything you can imagine and many you probably couldn't imagine. And there were students actively participating and enjoying each of these outlets.
There are endless possibilities at Cornell. And it was amazing to see people light up when they engage in the activities that they love. Some of the organizations were so unique and narrowly tailored to each individual need. There were students devoting hours of their day to studying the nine spot ladybug. Who knew there was a significance to the number of spots on a lady? Yet, after speaking with entomology students on campus, I learned not only is there a difference, but the nine spot ladybug is New York state's official state insect, and it was on the verge of extinction. That is, until Cornell students helped save the species.
And that's not all. Students in the Apple Breeding Program have developed over 65 varieties of the best tasting apples in the world and a few exclusively for New York state. The research, education, and experience received at Cornell does not end here. It stretches all across the globe and is utilized for a variety of cultures.
If you talk to students in the lab of ornithology, you will encounter several people trying to protect the Florida Scrub Jay, as well as many other breeds. If you speak to students in plant science, they will remind you that Cornell students came together last spring to witness the rare blooming of the corpse flower, the largest flower in the world which happens to smell like rotting meat. And if you talk to students in engineering, you will learn about the hundreds of innovative programs being worked on every single day, like the new form of pepper spray that takes a picture when used and connects to a cell phone via Bluetooth to call the police in an attempt to save lives.
These are the things that make Cornell a one of a kind institution. It is the only Ivy League university of its size and, therefore, the only one that can offer such a diverse range of opportunities to become passionate about. People always talk about finding yourself in college and discovering what you love. And that's great. But Cornell takes it to an entirely different level.
It offers opportunities, clubs, classes, and research that spark passions in fields that you may have never even known existed. When Ezra declared that he would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study, I don't think he realized just how far that sentiment could reach. It is not just our academic education that we have achieved here, it is our personal, social, and creative education as well.
What is most impressive about this institution is the fact that so much learning goes on outside of the classroom. Students here become so passionate that they take what they learn in lecture and exercise it in clubs and activities. There are engineering students designing tools that will improve functionality, reduce carbon emissions, and so much more.
There are students studying labor relations and policy analysis that will improve and equalize the workplace and push government officials to make great social strides. We have students in agriculture and life science, horticulture and plant science that will cure world hunger and create more resilient crops. Nutritional science students will help reduce obesity and improve global health.
We have students in economics and management that will improve the world's economy. And we have student leaders that are so strong willed and determined that one of us will become the first Cornellian President of the United States.
From the day we signed our acceptance letter to study at this institution, we not only became a student at Cornell, but we also became a part of this whole world. We have entered into a family that will be connected for the rest of our lives and a legacy that will continue thereafter.
So be proud when you see a great change or invention that came from a Cornellian. And don't lose the bonds that you have forged during your time here, because the connections we have made are invaluable. Be proud to be a Cornellian, because you've earned it.
We represent some of the brightest minds and hardest working people there are. And we have all achieved a great and prestigious education in fields that need improvement. Yes, we live in an imperfect world. And no, it may not always be easy. But if you bring your intelligence and efforts forth, I have no doubt that you'll play an instrumental role in making the progress this world so desperately needs.
In conclusion, I quote the famous academic and author Leo Rosten who states, "The purpose of life is to matter, to count, to stand for something, to have it make some difference that we lived at all." I urge you to take the education, experiences, passions, and connections we have all gained from this university and channel them into making your own mark on this world.
I am so honored and humbled to have been able to get to know so many of you. I congratulate you and thank you in advance for all of the wonderful contributions you are all destined to make. And with that, I say, congratulations to the Class of 2013 and thank you very much.
Now I would like to introduce the Co-Presidents of the Senior Class Campaign and the 2013 Alumni Council, Fiona Ismail and Jon Weinberg.
FIONA ISMAIL: Thank you, Anna. Four years ago, if someone told me I would be standing here today, representing the Senior Class Campaign, I would have thought they were crazy. As a freshman, Cornell was a daunting place. Coming from a small independent all-girls high school with graduating class of 58, it seemed impossible I could make it through Cornell without getting lost in the crowd. As I went through orientation week, I could not believe the amount of opportunities available to me, the knowledge of my classmates, and most of all, the speed at which people emailed.
So what's changed over these past four years? Well, first of all, I got a smartphone and learned to type quickly. But seriously, the part of Cornell that is so incredible to me is its ability to be so big and yet so small at the same time. On a campus that has over 20,000 students, it seems unlikely that you would run into people you know on a regular basis. And yet, the magic of Cornell is that it happens every day.
At any given time, when walking to class, you can run into a freshman year dorm mate, someone from a class two semesters ago, or even a professor from a writing seminar who actually remembers your name. Though our campus may appear large in terms of numbers, in practice, we have so many personal connections. Being on this campus has given us the opportunity to learn and grow from each other, even if we don't see each other every day, because we're all Cornellians. We all share similar experiences and memories that make each interaction seem just like the last.
And that is what the Senior Class Campaign is all about. As a class that cares so deeply about Cornell and our time here, the Senior Class Campaign strives to ensure that these connections stay active long after graduation. We want every senior to be excited about being an active Cornellian for life, because these experiences of running into each other and feeling like no time has passed should last forever.
This year, the theme of our campaign was "Thank You, Cornell." We focused on acknowledging and thanking the various aspects of Cornell that meant the most to us during our time here. But today, I would like to say thank you to the seniors. Thank you for your selfless generosity and ensuring the next generation of Cornell students can enjoy the same opportunities afforded to us. This year, we beat the Class of 2012 with over 1,200 seniors participating in the campaign.
A special shout-out to ILR for having the highest participation percentage amongst the colleges.
Thank you, again, to all who contributed to the campaign. Please know that your support and generosity are greatly appreciated. I would now like to introduce one of my close friends and fellow co-president of the Senior Class Campaign, John Weinberg, to talk about our future roles as alumni.
JON WEINBERG: Thank you, Fiona. Classmates, I am honored to stand before you today. And I am incredibly grateful for the time we have spent together on the Hill. Our shared experiences at Cornell will forever bring us together as proud members of the Class of 2013.
For four years, we have given a full, exhaustive effort to all of our endeavors, from our academics to our extracurriculars to our social schedules, with the end goal of graduation. We have finally made it. But our time is Cornellians has only just begun. As Fiona mentioned, we have so much to reminisce about and be thankful for. But friends, we have so much to look forward to.
We are pursuing an incredible variety of careers and causes as consultants and bankers in New York, public servants in Washington, teachers in Texas, engineers in California, athletes in the Olympic games, and students at the nation's preeminent graduate schools. In all of our pursuits, in all parts of the world, we will be guided by the values, passions, and ways of thinking we have learned here, both inside and outside the classroom.
Our Cornell experience is not just characterized by the four years we spent shaping our dreams, but rather also by the decades we will spend making them a reality. We will always be connected by our time far above Cayuga's Waters. Whether you return to Ithaca in a few weeks for Reunion Zero or not for a few years, keep Cornell close to your heart. Keep in touch with your friends and favorite professors. Volunteer your time, talent, and treasure.
Network with members of the Cornell community. Cheer on the Big Red athletic teams. Even email President Skorton. Know that whatever you do and wherever you go, you are forever and always a Cornellian.
The Senior Class Campaign sought to establish a class legacy through philanthropy to enable future Cornellians to have the same experience we did. An anonymous donor pledged to give $25 to a Class of 2013 Scholarship Fund for each member of the senior class who participated in the Class Campaign, up to $25,000. With Vice President for Student and Academic Services Susan Murphy motivating us on behalf of the donor, our class was challenged to reach 1,000 participants in the campaign. I am so proud to announce that we met the challenge and that a Class of 2013 Scholarship will be offered next year to two deserving students.
Thanks to your hard work and dedication, future Cornellians will be able to attend the university and, like us, thank and love Cornell. Thank you to the anonymous donor and to Vice President Murphy for helping our class start our legacy. President Skorton, we are so excited to be a part of Cornell's future.
And now, please join me in welcoming the Cornell University Chorus and Glee Club as they sing valedictory songs by Cornellian Niccolo Athens.
RONEAL DESAI: As someone who has had the privilege of working with our university's president over the past four years, I can personally attest to the fact that our class could not have had an individual who cared more deeply about the student experience or the quality of life for our undergraduates. A national leader in research ethics, board certified cardiologist, musician, and advocate for education, arts, and the humanities, he has aimed to make Cornell a model combination of academic distinction and public service. Please join me in welcoming the 12th president of Cornell University, Dr. David J. Skorton.
DR. DAVID SKORTON: Thanks, Roneal. And for all of you visiting upstate New York, welcome to another balmy, gorgeous Ithaca day. And parents and family members, can you imagine how tough and resilient your student is by now after four years here? Again, I welcome the Class of 2013 and the family and friends of the graduates and members of the wider community as we celebrate the senior class convocation. First of all, congratulations to everyone graduating tomorrow.
And thank you, Class of 2013, for leaving a very important and outstanding legacy through your accomplishments, through your constructive dialogue, and through your generous support of those students who will follow in your tracks. I especially want to recognize Convocation Chair Roneal Desai, Senior Class President Brianna Fowler, Senior Campaign Co-Presidents Fiona Ismail and Jon Weinberg for their leadership on behalf of the graduating class. You've gotten a tiny taste of their dedication and brilliance today. Let's thank them again for leading a class of leaders.
The Class of 2013 has continued its brilliant judgment by choosing as its convocation speaker someone who has taken on some of the greatest challenges a civic leader can face. When Cory Booker became Mayor of Newark in 2006, he took charge of a city that had been in decline for decades. Riots in 1967 had led to middle class flight from the city. And Newark was plagued and characterized by intractable poverty and crime and corruption.
Mayor Booker, however, had already captured the imagination of many residents of Newark in ways that would help him meet these challenges. Cory Booker grew up in a middle class family. He is the son of two IBM executives in a Newark suburb. He earned a bachelor's degree in political science and a master's in sociology from Stanford University where he played varsity football and was president of his class.
He also went to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, earning a degree in modern history and in 1997, completed his law degree at Yale University. While a student, he worked in a free legal clinic for low-income residents of New Haven. Many careers were open to Mr. Booker at that point. But he cared about Newark. And he saw a role for himself in this city's future.
Even before graduating from law school, he moved into a bleak and impoverished neighborhood in Newark and worked as a staff attorney for Newark's Urban Justice Center before winning his seat on the City Council at age 29. He ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2002 but came back to win four years later in a landslide, becoming mayor at the age of 37.
In two terms in office, Mayor Booker has surprised many residents with a personal hands-on style that attracts attention and gets results. He lived on a food budget of $30 a week, equivalent to a food stamp allowance. He shoveled a stranger's driveway after receiving a Twitter appeal for help.
He reduced his own salary. He rushed into a burning house and brought a woman out safely, at considerable personal risk. He rode in police cars at night to see for himself what his officers were dealing with and exactly how they responded to the community.
Early in Mayor Booker's first term, Newark began to change and make huge strides. With a new police chief and crime as the mayor's top priority, in two years, the murder rate declined 36%, shooting incidents 41%, and rape 30%. The mayor's initiatives increased production of affordable housing, expanded parks and recreation spaces, and raised philanthropic donations for this city.
Although, of course, the financial crisis of 2008 and subsequent recession hampered some of his efforts to revive the troubled city, Mayor Booker is credited with major accomplishments. The city's structural budget deficit is down. New construction, including two hotels and a first new supermarket for the central ward in decades, has enlivened the economy. The mayor has strengthened law enforcement and rooted out corruption.
Though the city still faces high unemployment and other challenges, for many Newark residents, Mayor Cory Booker has brought real change and most importantly, hope for the future. Mr. Booker has often been regarded as a potential candidate for state and national offices. The US Senate seat of Frank Lautenberg, who is retiring, will be up for election in 2014. And Mr. Booker is one of several Democratic contenders.
Mr. Booker's career has been and will be a fascinating and inspiring one to watch. And I am looking forward, as you are, to the thoughts he will share with us today. Please welcome the Class of 2013 Senior Convocation speaker Mayor Cory Booker.
CORY BOOKER: Good afternoon, Cornell. I am so pleased to be here. I am a Stanford graduate. So I appreciate you giving me weather like California. For those of who are worried, my hair won't be too messed up during this speech.
I'm also happy to be following this last year's speaker who was also a mayor. It seems like you guys are in a mayoral period here. Last year you had Mayor Bloomberg. And I tell you, I owe him a lot. Mayor Bloomberg is my mentor mayor. I always say he is the Obi-Wan Kenobi of American mayors.
And he also gave me my best advice ever in politics, which is very simply, Cory, Cory, before you become a mayor, you should become a billionaire.
I've taken a different route. But he still inspires me. Ladies and gentlemen, I am thrilled to be here to speak with you briefly on this, such an important, afternoon. I'm honored to be here to share in a journey of incredible joy and opportunity and possibility for some of the bright lights in our country as we move forward into the American story.
I'm here with a sense of gratitude that you would include me, especially because I know it took so many people to make this day possible. I, like I'm sure the graduates, extend my thanks to all the people who make this university such a special place. It's members of the Board of Trustees, like one of the ones who was responsible for bringing me here today-- like Andrew Tisch and his wife Ann Tisch-- you can definitely give them a round of applause.
Thank you for that. I flew up on his plane today, and I'm hoping he'll give me a ride home.
I want to obviously thank the faculty here, which is awesome and extraordinary, and their contributions not just to the education of the young people before me, but also because of their contributions to research, science, and advancement in fields ranging from hotel management to agriculture. I want to thank not only the faculty and the staff, but those people who often don't get thanked enough-- the people who work on the lawns and the grounds of this university, the people who serve meals, the people who clean bathrooms-- they, too, deserve our gratitude today for making this day possible.
And so I would like to spend briefly talking to you about something that was on my refrigerator for eight years. And by the way, you don't want to see what was in my refrigerator. As a bachelor, there are chemical and biological experiments going on behind those doors.
But for eight years of my life, I lived in some high-rise-- what became public housing projects-- in a tough area of Newark, New Jersey. On my fridge, I put a quote that was inspired by the tenant leader of those projects. And I'd like to simply tell you two stories that relate to that quote.
This tenant leader was a woman about five feet, inches tall, tough as nails. I met her when she was already a senior citizen. Her stories were legendary in the community. And she became one of those anchors in my life.
I tell the students now that if you have the courage to boldly pursue your dreams and leave your comfort and go into the darkness of the unknown that you will find the universe will give you two things possibly when you plunge into the darkness. One is that you will have the realization that you find there, too, solid ground. And the second thing that you will find is that the universe will send you extraordinary people to teach you things, to elevate you, and even help you how to fly.
And this was what Miss Jones, the tenant leader, gave me. And the one thing that I want to focus on that inspired a refrigerator quote was her just telling me, Cory, understand this please that you can't do this alone-- that you need other people. Please understand. On my toughest days, she would say to me, please understand you can't do this alone.
And so on my fridge went the words of a great theologian. And it simply reads, "Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone. Therefore, we are saved by love."
I stand here today because of the love of a community called Newark. I take no easy understanding in the fact that my city of complex challenges-- my city of difficulties-- my city of difficult days past and ahead has actually-- we've accomplished some extraordinary things. Some days, I feel so high and so confident, because folks have come together in a spirit of love and have manifested tremendous change.
Newark is turning around. We now are in our biggest economic development period since the 1950s. In fact, even though we're 3% of our state's population, a third of all the development, multi-family and commercial-- the entire state of New Jersey-- was going on in Newark last year.
We have our first new office towers going up in decades, our first new hotels going up in 40 years. There are some days I see the triumphs of Newark and what people have done together, and I feel great. Companies are moving back to our city. Panasonic moved its North American headquarters.
1,000 employees building one of our first new office towers-- and in fact-- those of you who have a pen right now, write this down-- the new wine capital of America is Newark, New Jersey, because Manischewitz has moved its headquarters to Newark. And if the graduates want to meet me in the parking lot, I have screw-top wine for every one of the graduates.
There are days I marvel at what Newarkers have accomplished together, understanding that we have been saved by the love of our city, a dedication, a resiliency, a toughness. But I tell you that with an admission that there is still so much work to do. I am humbled sometimes by our challenges. And I admit to you, I am sometimes discouraged.
I live in a city where child poverty is still too high. I live in a nation where child poverty still undermines our potential and our collective stories we tell each other. We live in a country, and I live in a city, that still has children suffering from health problems we should have solved long ago from lead paint poisoning or epidemic obesity rates. I still live in a city that reflects our country where too many people suffer from violence, from guns and weapons.
I see our nation with literally having almost a Virginia Tech every single day. There are days when I confront problems that seem intractable. There are days that I confront problems that seems so frustrating that I get discouraged and forget those words on my refrigerator.
And so the two stories I want to tell you right now are about that-- is when I face discouragement and how I found that salvation-- that I have now found that love exists somewhere on the crossroads of great courage and great discouragement-- somewhere at the crossroads of fragility and invincibility.
The first story I tell you is a little bit irreverent, but I think it will make a point at the end. And it simply has to do with one of those days I came home discouraged. I tell you this-- I'm one of these guys. I am what's called an emotional eater. And on discouraged days, I go home sometimes frustrated and a little down. And I seek comfort from two of my best friends-- two guys that I love to luxuriate in and revel with-- Ben and Jerry.
And so one day, I'm sitting on my couch after a very difficult day. And I reach out, and I'm hanging out with Ben and Jerry. And I turn on the TV, looking for some late night comedian that's going to make me laugh. And I turn on The Tonight Show.
Now I want to tell you something. I believe one of the most toxic states of being is cynicism. When people ask me what the challenge I face in Newark is, I don't tell them about poverty. I don't tell them about crime. I say that the challenge we face as a community is believing that we can make change-- is understanding how great we are when we come together when we manifest that love.
But what frustrates me is that so many people surrender to cynicism. We've come to this point in America where-- generations of past had bold visions that we could solve all of American problems, now many people have resigned themselves to poverty-- resigned themselves that there will be schools in some places that just don't work and serve the genius of our kids-- have resigned themselves that there will be levels of violence some places in our country. And that cynicism, it eats at me.
So as I sat down that night, watching TV with Ben and Jerry, I was watching the TV, and I saw a glimmer of hope. One of our late night talk show hosts named Conan O'Brien was on TV. And he was talking about Newark.
And he says, I hear Newark, New Jersey has got a great new health care program. And I was excited, because we had this wonderful innovation in my city that was incentivizing families to use primary care, helping to drive down health costs, helping to elevate the health of our citizens. I was so proud. I couldn't believe it-- national TV, The Tonight Show. Conan O'Brien's talking about Newark and our program. I reached for the phone to call my mom.
And then Conan continues, but I've got a better idea for Newark. And I said, oh, Conan O'Brien's giving me advice. This is wonderful. He said, I think that the best health care program for the city of Newark should be a bus ticket out of town.
Thank you. Thank you for those people who moaned. I immediately reached for some Chubby Hubby.
I've watched the cynicism about the American city for too long. I was so frustrated as Detroit and Cincinnati and Oakland-- all of these great centers of America have too much cynicism about them. These are our domestic emerging markets. They still drive 80% of our GDP. Why is there so much cynicism? Why are we so quickly to knock down instead of build up?
And so I thought about my refrigerator magnet-- about there being salvation in love in each other. And I opened up my laptop computer. This being the modern age, I quickly asked the question, how many fans does this guy have? And I saw that 2.5 million people watched Conan O'Brien. And I immediately sprung into action, because I knew that the power of the people is always greater than the people in power, be they media greats or people in Washington DC.
And so the next day, I ran to City Hall. I got a young man with a cheap camera to film me behind my desk. And I sat there, looking very formal. In fact, I put some flags behind me. And if you want to know if a politician isn't serious, see if there's flags behind him. The more serious the speech, the more flags that you have.
You saw Barack Obama this week. Eight flags he had-- eight flags. I just had one.
And so I sat there behind my desk, and I looked at that camera. And I said, my name is Cory Booker. I'm the Mayor of Newark, New Jersey. We are a great city, and we have been insulted by Conan O'Brien. And therefore, by the power invested in me by the people of the city of Newark, I hereby put Conan O'Brien on the no-fly list at Newark Airport.
My last line was, try JFK, buddy. And then we took that video. And we gave it to the people. We put it online.
We thought that this could be the first time in American history that a media titan could be taken on by the people. In the past if a city was insulted, I saw what other mayors did. They either wrote an angry letter that was read by an intern's intern, or they called a press conference, which only channel 532 would show up.
But this is a new era. And I decided that we would take them on on their own footing. And lo and behold, that video, thanks to the power of people, began to be viewed over and over again. It went viral.
And before I knew it, my phone was ringing, but not with good news. I started getting angry calls from civil libertarians saying how dare I violate Conan O'Brien's civil rights. Before you know it, it was getting hundreds of thousands of views.
And next thing I know, the TSA gets angry. This is no joke. On their website, they put up a big notice, a clarification that mayors in America do not have the power to ban people from their airports. Before you know it, this video had gone so viral that Conan O'Brien was forced to respond-- this is a truth-- on his show. I had hoped that he would just apologize to me.
But like I learned from many Passover dinners, Pharaoh's hard sometimes is hardened. And the next thing I know, he is deciding to face me in turn. And he decides, by the power vested in him by a studio audience, to ban me from Burbank Airport.
Well, ladies and gentlemen, I've flown to California many times. And I know being banned from Burbank Airport ain't a big deal. But I am laden with that toxin that affects men all the time called testosterone. And I could not let myself be beat, so I filmed another video. And I sat there this time, and I banned Conan O'Brien from the entire state of New Jersey.
Now my staff, we had a debate. I thought about banning him from listening to Bon Jovi and Bruce. But there are some civil libertarians that said to me that would be cruel and unusual punishment.
Well, the fight escalates. Conan O'Brien goes on his show and bans me from the entire state of California. And that was an insult, because I love my alma mater. But before you know it, in all truth, one of the most powerful people on the globe steps in. In charge of brokering peace in foreign nations, it was America's Secretary of State. Hillary Clinton films her own video. I think she had flags behind her.
And she says on her video, in a Rodney King fashion, why can't you guys just get along? And before you know it, I get a call from The Tonight Show, saying Conan O'Brien has asked me to go on. I go to The Tonight Show. I go on stage. And here is a man from a mid-sized American city, sitting as an equal on The Tonight Show couch. And Conan O'Brien finally turns to me and apologizes for insulting Newark and gives $100,000 for charity in our city.
Graduates from 2013, I want you to understand this. Your power is individual accomplishment. It is so important. But please understand that in this world, true power-- the power to face intractable problems-- the power to take on the most difficult of things-- the power to change history and change destinies-- the power to face the agonies that still undermine the greatness of this nation lies in your ability to connect to other people. It lies in your ability to work through discouragement-- to work through those days that you don't want to get up off that couch-- to get out of a posture of pessimism-- to always realize that you have the ability to overcome things.
I always tell people that they should never let their inability do everything undermine their determination to do something. You, as an individual, may not be able to do it all. But if you stand up and join with someone else, you can make miracles happen. I've seen it in my city, the miraculous accomplishments that we've created in such a short period of time, not because of who the leader was, but because of who the leaders are.
Real leadership is not having you stand up and have everybody look at you in awe and applause. No, real leadership is awakening in others that they must be leaders themselves. Greatness is helping other people see that they themselves are great.
We live in a society now where too many people get caught in a state of sedentary agitation. They get so upset at the world, how it is. But they don't realize that they have the power to get up and do something about it.
You must be one of those people that inspires the action of others-- that doesn't just criticize and complain, but that reaches out your arms to embrace people in a mission that is bigger than you. This is the history that we come from. These are the people who we've inherited this nation from.
We come from a bunch of conspirators of love who joined together to do things that we won't be called to do. From stopping fascism, by storming beaches on Normandy, from banding together to end slavery along an Underground Railroad, from standing up in the Civil Rights movement-- all of us here drink deeply from wells of freedom and liberty and opportunity that we did not dig. We all here come from individuals who knew they may not change the world as one, but joined together with other people in small acts of kindness, decency, and love relentlessly.
Every day, we can make change. And that was my tenant president in those projects in Newark. This was her spirit. Her leadership was this sense of responsibility for others. And she would never let me forget it.
This woman led through her inspiration, through her action, through her deeds. I had situations with her which I just can't believe. Her son fought in the military overseas, stood with the US Army, came home, and was murdered in the building in which she lived.
I stood with Miss Jones, and I said, I don't understand this. That was back in the '80s. But yet, you still live in that building. You still walk through that lobby where your son was killed every day. Why are you still here?
And Miss Jones, who loved to say things in threes, she goes, why am I still in Brick Towers? And I said, yes, why? She goes, why do I live in apartment 5A? I said, yes, why? Why am I still the tenant president of these buildings? I said, yes, why?
She goes, Cory, because I'm in charge of Homeland Security. She took responsibility. She made everyone understand that no matter how tough your individual road gets, we must come together to make a change.
We cannot be those people that accepts things as they are. We must be those people that take responsibility for changing it. And so I end with a story about Miss Jones.
Her love saved me. I put the refrigerator magnet up because she reminded me nothing we do, no matter how virtuous, can be accomplished alone. Therefore, we're saved by love. I stand here as an elected official because she saved me one day.
You see, my first year I was elected to office was the worst year of my professional career. I started as this young swashbuckling lawyer, joining with tenant leaders like her, taking on big cases, going after slumlords. One day, I was going to go to court with her because she punched the slumlord of our buildings in the face. She told me she didn't need me, marched into court. The judge looked at her and the man she punched and just threw the case out of court.
And so one day on the end of my first year in office, after winning this great race, I had become so frustrated, because I was getting nothing done. I was just one out of nine council people and setting records in our city for being outvoted eight to one. The mayor of the city started seeing me as a threat to his future political career-- thought that I might challenge him one day. He was right.
But in Newark, we play hard. And the next thing we find out is that my phones had been tapped by the municipal police. I was getting my car ticketed everywhere I parked, even in front of City Hall with the other council people.
And after a year of this kind of frustration, of getting nothing done, and these political games, I just thought I was going to quit. And on that day, I got an angry call from another tenant leader that I used to work with. Her name was Elaine [? Sool, ?] a beautiful woman-- one of those leaders who still inspires me today.
And she represented another set of high-rises. And she said, we just had a violent incident out here. It's getting crazy. It's the wild, wild west. Get out here and help us.
And I said to her, what can I do? I'm just one council person. She goes, what can you do? You're in city government. Get the police out here to keep us safe. And I'm like, look, I can't get the police to stop ticketing my car, for crying out loud.
And before I know it, she and I are yelling back and forth at each other. And before I know it, this friend, this ally, this inspiring leader-- we're hanging up the phone. And now I'm done. Now I'm really going to quit.
I'd rather go back and be a young lawyer than be involved in politics where I felt nothing could get accomplished. And I'd go home to where I'm living in Brick Towers. And I'm telling you right now, when you're in a bad mood, the last person you want to see is Miss Virginia Jones.
And so I was thinking to my high school physics, what vector could I take into the buildings that this woman would not see me? But as I was walking up, she was standing there like a sentinel in front of the buildings. And she sees me from a block away and just watches me as I come.
And I put my head down. I don't want to make eye contact. You all know how this is. When the professor's asking a question, you don't make eye contact, because maybe they won't call on you.
And as I got up the steps, I just grunted, hello, Miss Jones. And I tried to walk by. And she gives me, don't you dare walk past me, boy.
And I stopped. And I said, Miss Jones, this is not the day. I don't have time to play. And she goes, you better come here and give Miss Jones a hug.
And I walked over frustratingly, and I gave her a little half-hearted hug. Hug, hug, OK. And she goes, tell me what's wrong? And I go, you want to know what's wrong? I'm wasting my life. What am I doing in politics?
And I started yelling at her. And she just took it, which is rare. She rarely took it. And she just let me vent on her.
And then I finally said, I got this problem with Miss [? Sool. ?] And she wants me to do something about the violence, but I don't know what to do. And I must have repeated it three times. I don't know what to do.
And then finally, Miss Jones, on the last time, says, wait a minute. I go, what? And it was almost like God had shined his angels right down on her, giving her this burst of inspiration. She looks at me, and she says, I know exactly what you should do.
And I go, tell me. And now she goes into her trifecta. She goes, yep, I know exactly what you should do. I said, I heard you, Miss Jones. And she scratches her head. I lean in, and she goes, yeah, I know what you should do.
And I'm like, tell me what I should do. And she takes a deep breath. And now I know it's coming. And this is a wise woman. I actually have a feeling that she might help me right now.
And she says, you should-- and I'm like, yes. She says, you should-- I go, yes, Miss Jones. She says, you should do something. I was like, what?
She goes, you should do something about that. And I had it. I was so angry, I spun around and stormed away from her, walked into my building.
Now I'm a religious man. And I'm telling you, I believe God has dominion over the world in every place except for one-- public housing elevators, because I walked up to that elevator and it always knows my mood. If I'm in a good mood, I ride right up. If I'm in a bad mood or carrying groceries-- and so I walked up 16 flights of stairs.
I sat down on my couch, angry as could be at Miss Jones, angry at the world, frustrated as can be. And then I realized, be saved by love. Then I realized I can't solve all the world's problems. But heck, that woman's right. I could do something.
I call an aide of mine and said, we're going to try something crazy. I want you to get me a tent. And he got the tent. And we went out to Garden Spires. We set up this tent right there on the pavement.
And Miss [? Sool ?] came down. She looked angry at me for disrespecting her on the phone. I went over her, and I said, Miss [? Sool, ?] I'm so sorry I disrespected you. I raised my voice. I'm sorry.
And I said, I don't know how we're going to solve the problems out here. But I'll tell you what, I'm here. And we're going to do something.
I told her, that tent over there-- I'm going to stay in the tent. And I said to her that I'm going to fast. I'm going to go on a hunger strike. And I'm going to pray. And I'm not going to eat anything until we figure something out.
And I asked her, I said, would you do me a favor? Would you pray with me every morning? And she and I hugged. And there might have been some tears.
And then I did something that I want you all to know. This is the second thing you should write down. If you ever become a politician, this is your best tool. I decided to call a press conference.
And I told the press that this is the United States of America. How can we tolerate such levels of violence within our own borders where in some communities, people live in terror? They don't even feel safe leaving their homes. How could this be America?
And I tried my best to call to the conscience of my community. And I went to bed that night and woke up the next morning. Miss [? Sool ?] and two of my aides-- the four of us said a little prayer in a circle. And before we were finishing, about a dozen big guys come out.
And we look at these big, strapping guys. And they say, are you Cory Booker? And I said, yes, I am. And they said, well, we're correctional officers from a prison in the community. And we're not going to let you stand here alone. We're going to stand with you.
The next thing I know, community leaders from the neighborhood start coming out. A guy named Thomas Reddick, who is this amazing pastor, comes out. And he says something like, wait a minute. Let me get this straight. I'm a black minister in the community. You're going to be fasting and praying out here? I said, yes, sir. He goes, man, I'm in on this. This is great.
Before you know it, hundreds of folks are coming out. We had a hospital in our neighborhood, in our city, that found out. They brought out a health screening van to give health screenings to kids and seniors. Before we know it, some companies started coming out and doing job fairs.
Before I know it, a town of West Orange with a great mayor-- suburban town in our area-- he came down with his police officers and said, I will stand with you. Before we knew it, not only were people coming from our area, around our city and towns, but folks from across the river in New York started getting involved. NYU students started coming to be under the tent. Some of them were doing face paintings and other things.
In fact, this guy on Wall Street saw what was happening and decided that he was going to buy pizzas for everybody, which was the nicest gesture in the world. But it really ticked me off, because I was on a hunger strike, for crying out loud.
Eventually, the owners of the buildings, they came out, too, and pledged to do thousands of dollars worth of security upgrades. Things seemed to be really going well. And then on the 10th day, after prayer and fasting-- after community coming together and gospel choirs coming out and singing and people talking and feeling strength, the mayor of the city came out.
And I'll never forget. It was like the two of us walked towards each other with a big mass. Somebody might have thought it was like a boxing match where two prize fighters come together. But that's not how I felt. I had been with folks all those 10 days. And suddenly, he didn't look like my political adversary. He just looked like another guy on this journey.
And he had some prepared remarks. But we hugged. Somebody took a picture of our hug, put it on the front page of a section of the newspaper. And I just hugged him. It was a long hug.
And finally, when he released, he put away his prepared remarks. And he turned around and said, this is going to be over. I'm going to bring police out here. We're going to keep this neighborhood safe. In this area, we're going to build a park.
And we celebrated. And the tent came down. But I want to tell you, we didn't have a victory. Some of us fool us to thinking that there are quick fixes to our enduring problems. There was no victory that day, in terms of the changes that the mayor made, because the police came out for a while. But when they went away, a lot of the problems came back.
I'm proud to be in a part of a city that's building parks all over our community with the biggest parks expansion in a century. And I tell you, every one of those parks took lots of work from volunteers and philanthropists and nonprofits. And so that mayor never built a park there. But a community of people now built-- finally, after years-- built a park and a daycare center.
The reason I tell you the story is not because we got some quick victory from 10 days on some pavement in the projects. I tell you the story to end with this important note. My lesson came not in those 10 days, but came in the last prayer. All of us came together to pray. And it wasn't just four people like on the first day. Now there must have been about 200 folks coming together in a circle of prayer.
And when we stood around, I looked. And I was a young man at that point. But I tell you, even though, it was the most beautiful vision of my nation I had ever seen. Here in front of some projects, underneath a highway overpass that most people drove through not even paying attention to-- here, suddenly, was my favorite vision of America, because in that circle, I saw all of us.
There were young, and there were old, coming together to pray. There were believers and nonbelievers standing together in unison. There were Christians and Jews and Muslims. There were rabbis and imams, ministers and priests.
And I tell you this-- when I held hands in this large circle of people-- 10 days without eating, but it was the strongest I had ever felt in my life. And when we held hands and I began to hear the prayers from many languages-- Spanish and English, Arabic and Hebrew-- as folks began to pray, I heard the words of our common ancestry.
I heard the words from an African parable that says, spiderwebs united could tie up a lion. I heard another parable from that continent that says, if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. I heard the words of a great Israeli leader that said, Jews together are strong, but Jews with other people are invincible.
I heard this one word from an ancient language, Sanskrit, that means, the divinity in me recognizes the divinity in you. Namaste. I heard the words of a minister in a jail cell in Birmingham in April of 1963 who wrote the truth that we are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a common garment of destiny, that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
And then I heard these three words from another dead language that are the hallmark of this young country, still fighting to make true and real on the words of their founding. And those words are simply the Latin, e pluribus unum.
Class of 2013, I tell you now, I hope you all have great individual accomplishment. But your generation will be determined by how you come together as lovers-- lovers of peace and lovers of justice-- how you decide in your own heart you will join with others, because this world is trying to tear us apart. This nation so quickly points to the lines that divide us. You must be one that turns those lines into ties that bind us.
You have this calling now to understand that nothing you do, however virtuous, will really be accomplished alone. You must save this nation with love, with love, with love.
I end with another quote from my refrigerator-- always going back to food-- it's written by my favorite author James Baldwin who, in a book called The Fire Next Time, a book full of challenges and difficulties, he ends with these words about love. He says, I know what I'm asking you is impossible. But in today's day and age, as in every time, the impossible is the least we can demand, because one is, after all, emboldened by the spectacle of human history, and American history in particular, for it testifies to nothing less than the perpetual achievement of the impossible.
And if we-- and by we, I mean all of us who must, like lovers, come together and insist upon or create the consciousness of all-- if we do not falter in our duty, we may be able, handful that we are, to end the nightmare and achieve our country and change the history of the world. If we do not now dare everything, the fulfillment of that prophecy recreated in the Bible song by a slave may be upon us. God gave Noah the rainbow sign. No more water, the fire next time.
I tell you, Class of '13, the fires in America will burn again. But they won't be fires of riot and rage that we saw in cities past. It won't be the fires of frustration and cynicism. The fires that must be burning are the fires of love and justice-- are the fires of our heart and our compassion-- the little fires of individual actions that every day will add up to an inferno of change.
This is your calling-- to put aloft again the greatest flame in the world, the very torch of hope of the American dream. May we make it real. May we bring to our country, justice. And may you be the architects of that reality. God bless you. God bless you and congratulations.
RONEAL DESAI: Thank you, Mayor Booker, for sharing your experiences and words of wisdom with our class. It was a true privilege to hear you speak today. And we are all grateful you could share this special moment with us. It is with great honor that I now present to you the 2013 Convocation Medallion for your exemplary leadership and commitment to service.
Additionally, in order to exemplify Mayor Booker's dedication to our country's youth and education, the 2013 Convocation Committee has made a donation in his honor to the Community Foundation of New Jersey. It is leaders such as yourself that the members of our class will look towards as we search for our own paths to serve others. Once again, thank you for all you have done to set an example for our generation.
I would now like to take this opportunity to thank certain individuals who have made today possible. First, many, many thanks to the members of the 2013 Convocation Committee, which is comprised of some of the most eclectic, successful, and intelligent students I have had the pleasure of meeting and working with during my time here at Cornell.
I know you all only came to my meetings for the free pizza and cookies. But in all honesty, today would not be a success without the hours of work you have put in over the last two years. I ask you now to all stand and please be recognized.
Second, a thank you to President Skorton, Vice President Susan Murphy, Vice President Steven Johnson, Vice President Tommy Bruce, and especially Trustee Andrew Tisch for the time and effort they have all put into making this weekend a success. I would also like to thank Jennifer Davis, my adviser, who this event would not be possible without.
Finally, and most importantly of all, I want to thank all of the family and friends who are here in attendance today. Without your support, none of us would have either the courage nor the strength to have made it through these last four years. And for that, the graduates of the Class of 2013 could not thank you enough.
As I bid you farewell, I would like to leave you all with one final thought. Albert Einstein once said, not everything that can be counted counts. And not everything that counts can be counted.
As Jon and Fiona mentioned in their remarks, convocation marks the beginning of our graduation weekend at Cornell, not the beginning of our Cornell lives ending. So let us not count the number of friends we still have to say goodbye to, last times that we will do something here in Ithaca, or items on the 161 Things to Do that we never got around to. Instead, let us embrace the fact that this weekend is just another part of our Cornell lives, a continuous culmination of experiences, stories, and memories that have made us all who we are today.
Let us not forget that while we all came here four years ago and became a part of Cornell, we are now leaving with Cornell being a part of us. As the tides roll by and the years pass, this fact will never change. And the Big Red will always be in each of us.
Thank you all for attending this afternoon. And I hope you enjoy the rest of your graduation weekends here in Ithaca.
I would now like to invite you all to join us in singing the Alma Mater.
[MUSIC, "CORNELL'S ALMA MATER"]
Far above Cayuga's waters with its waves of blue, stands our noble alma mater, glorious to view. Lift the chorus, speed it onward, loud her praises tell. Hail to thee, our alma mater. Hail, all hail, Cornell.
Far above the busy humming of the bustling town, reared against the arch of heaven, looks she proudly down. Lift the chorus, speed it onward, loud her praises tell. Hail to thee, our alma mater. Hail, all hail, Cornell.
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Senior class president and Newark, NJ Mayor Cory Booker address graduating students and guests at Schoellkopf Stadium, May 25, 2013 at noon.
Congratulations, Class of 2013!