Ladies and gentlemen, please rise and join us for the singing of the national anthem as performed by the Cornell University Wind Symphony and Chorus and Glee Club.
[MUSIC - "THE STAR-SPANGLED BANNER"]
Good afternoon. Friends and family, faculty, members of the administration, distinguished guests, and, most importantly, members of the class of 2015.
My name is Rachel Gerber and it is an honor to be amongst the first to welcome you to the 2015 Senior Convocation Ceremony and to the beginning of Cornell University's 147th Commencement Weekend.
Each one of us made the decision to come to Cornell. We had our own reasons. An academic program, impressive faculty, the vibrant campus community, or the gorgeous scenery. There was something about this place that made us choose Cornell. Something that drew us in and gave us this feeling that this university might just become home.
And now here we are. We're ready to graduate. And over the last three, four, or five years we've discovered and acquired countless reasons that this place has become our home. We've had semesters' and years' worth of opportunities that caused to switch majors, change career paths, or spend months studying abroad. Our peers and classmates that we first met on North Campus have become our lifelong friends and confidants.
Professors and advisers have served as a source of inspiration and guidance through rigorous courses. We became actively involved in a research project, sports team, Greek organization, or committee that tied to a corner of this campus. Had too many nights that ended at RPCC during freshman year or at CTP during senior year. Drink too many cups of coffee from Libe and CTB and spent more time in Olin, Mann, or Uris than we ever knew we would.
Through its unique opportunities, we have the ability to learn and grow at Cornell. We became a part of the community larger than ourselves, expanded our intellectual horizons, and developed our personal interests. And through it all, we found a home here on the Hill.
As Cornellians, we have a spirit within each of us that sets us apart. It's something we can now recognize within each other. It's our devotion to impacting our surroundings, to pursuing our own hopes and dreams, all while having a good time. To connecting with people and creating real relationships along the way.
It's the service, leadership, and character within each of us that makes us innately Cornellians. It has been within us from the first time we stepped on campus and something that the Cornell experience brought out. In less than 24 hours, we will become graduates of Cornell University and all that we have accomplished in the last four years will only be our beginning.
From 48 states and 45 different countries, our diverse paths crossed here at Cornell. We'll soon depart from the Hill into different careers, graduate schools, and life paths across the country and around the world. And as we go on, we'll forever be Cornellians.
I would now like to introduce Senior Class President Don Muir to give the Senior Class Address.
Thanks, Rachel. Family, friends, faculty, and, most importantly, members of the class of 2015, Cornell's 150th anniversary class, good afternoon and congratulations.
First and foremost, on behalf of the class of 2015, thank you President Skorton and Vice President Murphy for an incredible four years under your leadership. Our class is truly fortunate to have shared your final year as Cornell administrators. Also, a special thank you to all of the parents out there, including my own mom and dad, who have provided us with unwavering guidance, paving our path to tomorrow's graduation. We could not have done it without you.
For those of you who I've not yet had the pleasure to meet, my name is Don Muir and I'm the President of the Class of 2015. Today I have been asked to address the end of our journey at Cornell University. However, I'm going to start at the beginning.
Four years ago, I remember our class with more than 3,000 newly matriculated and overly eager freshmen rushing Schoellkopf field in the Cornell tradition before the homecoming football game. Amid all the pandemonium, I distinctly remember coming to a halt on the 50 yard line for brief moment to take it all in. I'll never forget how fortunate I felt to be on this very field where many of you are right now standing among the most impressive individuals that our generation has to offer.
During the following years, we combated cold winters with hot beverages, closed out Kroch Library preparing for that first or final prelim. We joined clubs. We've gone Greek. We created new organizations. We witnessed the closure of East Ave but the opening of Gates Hall. The fall The Palms, but the revival of Rulloff's.
By our final year, we mastered the art of course enroll, became leaders in our respective organizations, and shaped and guided the future leaders of this institution. Tomorrow afternoon we are moving on. We are graduating from one of the world's most prestigious academic institutions. As we walk across the stage, achieving our most recent milestone and turning to the next chapter in life, it is imperative to remember all that we have gained from our time on the Hill.
I've been told that the greatest takeaway was the all nighter that built our character, the thesis that enhanced our writing, or the mathematics course that established our quantitative ability. However, I would argue that the greatest takeaway cannot be found in a textbook, rather it comes from one another.
Over the past few years, we have developed lifelong bonds, learning from each other and institutionalizing a network that will continue into perpetuity. Yes, tomorrow you are moving on. You are moving on, but never moving past because those impenetrable bonds and lifelong friendships will march with you hand-in-hand as you shape our future.
Tomorrow we are graduating from Cornell. But we are graduating with Cornell as well. We are graduating with the world's newest generation of leaders.
Four years ago on that 50 yard line, I had no idea what was in store during my time at Cornell. Tackling impossible prelims, defeating Harvard hockey in overtime, enduring the Ithaca winter. All of these memories have merged into one unforgettable Cornell experience.
What stands out most, however, what I will never forget, is my time spent with all of you. From my brothers in Delta Chi, ODK, and DSP, to all of my friends in Class Counsel, peers in the Dyson School, and everyone else in the class of 2015, it is with all of you that I share this impenetrable bond. As a graduates of Cornell University, you are the leaders of our future and you are my lifelong friends.
Today I have been asked to address the end of our journey at Cornell University. However, I believe that today is only the beginning. As we push forward, innovate, and achieve, we will create new businesses rather than new student organizations. We will defend human rights rather than defend our thesis. But we will never forget the university that brought us together today, once again reunited on Schoellkopf Field on the eve of her 150th anniversary.
We will never forget this incredible institution "Far Above Cayuga's Waters." We will never forget Cornell. Thank you.
And now it is my pleasure to introduce our two Senior Class Campaign Chairs-- Morgan Miller and Syed Ali Kahn.
When we think about Cornell, it's hard not to think about the amazing beauty of the view from the slope or the view of the clock tower, which is somehow visible from almost every point in Ithaca. Cornell's magnificence can obviously be seen in its physical beauty. But its beauty extends much far beyond that.
The beauty is in the friends we make, the things we learned, the alumni that will always be our family, and the community that will always be our home. Cornell is not just a place, it's a community that stretches far beyond Ithaca. The opportunities that Cornell provides are only starting now.
Almost four years ago, we came together at Cornell University. But in less than 24 hours, we will separate. Just because we are graduating doesn't mean that Cornell suddenly disappears. Cornell will always serve as home in more than just the physical sense.
I wanted to attend a university that encourages people to find success in the qualities that make them unique. Ezra Cornell entrusted the university with a mission, to promote success through diversity. An institution where any person can find instruction in any study.
In the presence of this diversity, over 3,000 individuals per class, I feel the most at home. More so than in my high school graduating class of only 80. That's the power of Cornell. The ability to make any person in any study feel part of a whole. That is why I chose to become part of the Senior Class Campaign, to continue a legacy of providing opportunities, chances, and a home to such a diverse group of people. To show how much we all appreciate our time on the Hill, to pay it forward and provide every student possible the opportunity to join the Cornell community.
Cornellians don't just have school spirit, we have school pride. And it's the mission of the Senior Class Campaign to instill that pride in every single senior, no matter what his or her affiliation or identification at Cornell. This place is here for everyone and will remain long after graduation. It is our job, starting as seniors, to pay it forward to these future Cornellians. And knowing that Cornell will always be here for us and for teachers students makes it a little bit less hard to say goodbye this weekend.
I would now like to introduce my friend and Senior Class Campaign Co-President Syed Ali Kahn.
Thank you, Morgan. Classmates, it is an honor to stand before you today and I am grateful for our shared experiences on the Hill. Since the day that we stepped onto this campus, we challenged ourselves. And our actions are leaving an undeniable legacy of inspiration, achievement, and service. Just this past year members of our class led performance groups who put on awe-inspiring showcases and athletic teams who pushed the boundaries of excellence.
Our classmates made headway on groundbreaking research and started businesses that gained national recognition. Most importantly, we have been quick to support our peers who suffered hardships, those in the greater Ithaca community who needed a helping hand, and those around the world when crisis hit. Class of 2015, we have so much to be proud of. But we also have so much to look forward to.
Well, then. Our passions are taking us far from Cornell to places like the factory floors of Tennessee, the classrooms of California, and, of course, the cubicles of New York City. As we move through this world, the values we gained at Cornell will guide us and the dreams we conceived here will hopefully become reality.
So whether you plan on returning to Ithaca in a few weeks for Reunion 0 or not for a few years, keep Cornell close to your heart. Volunteer, stay in touch with friends and professors, and never forget the Big Red. The Senior Class Campaign sought to cement our class legacy through philanthropy to enable future Cornellians to have the same life-changing experiences we did.
I am proud to announce that over 1,000 seniors contributed to the campaign this year.
With special recognition going out to the Hotel School and ILR School for having the highest participation rates.
President Skorton, please accept our class gift of over $36,000 to Cornell.
Furthermore, thanks to the generosity of a Cornell family, a scholarship will be given next year in honor of our class and the outstanding contributions that we've made to this university.
Thank you to all who participated in the campaign. As you leave Ithaca, remember that wherever you go and whatever you do, you will always and forever be a Cornellian. Thank you.
And now please join me in welcoming the Cornell University Glee Club and Chorus as they sing "The Hill" by George F. Pond.
[SINGING "THE HILL"]
A national leader in research ethics, board-certified cardiologist, musician, advocate for the arts and humanities, and the next Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, the University's President aims to make Cornell a model combination of academic distinction and public service. Please join me in welcoming, at his final convocation ceremony, the 12th president of Cornell University, Doctor David J. Skorton.
Thank you very much. And once again, welcome to the class of 2015, family and friends of the graduates, and members of the wider community as we celebrate this year's senior class convocation. Congratulations to all who are graduating tomorrow. And thank you class of 2015 for leaving an outstanding legacy through your accomplishments during your time at Cornell and your generous support of those who will follow as students here.
I specially want to recognize Convocation Chair Rachel Gerber, Senior Class President Donald Muir, Senior Campaign Co-Presidents Syed Ali Khan and Morgan Miller for their leadership on behalf of the graduating class and all of us. Thank you.
Each year the graduating students choose who will address us on this important day. And the class of 2015 has chosen not one but two convocation speakers this year. And they are remarkable as individuals, and I believe more so as a team.
Both have retired from highly successful and publicly visible careers. Together they have embarked on a different public career carved out in the aftermath of tragedy.
Gabrielle Giffords is a native of Tucson who early on demonstrated keen interest in the issues facing Arizonans. As an undergraduate at Scripps College she majored in sociology and Latin American history. For a year she was a Fulbright Fellow in Chihuahua, Mexico. And she came to Cornell to earn a master's in regional planning in 1996, writing her thesis on the social and economic benefits of arts organizations in Tucson.
After a few years in business, including serving as CEO of the tire company owned by her family, she went into politics. She was elected to the Arizona House of Representatives for one term, followed by two further terms in the Arizona Senate. And in 2006, she won a seat in the United States Congress and was reelected in 2008 and she was reelected in 2010.
In Congress she was widely known for her advocacy of comprehensive immigration reform, as well as for her support of solar energy and of raising the minimum wage. During her first term in Congress, she married Mark E. Kelly, an astronaut and Navy captain.
A naval aviator since 1987, he flew 39 combat missions in Iraq and Kuwait during the First Gulf War and also served as a test pilot. As an astronaut, he traveled to the International Space Station four times on the space shuttle and twice as commander. Incidentally, in case you don't know, he has an identical twin brother, Scott, who is also an astronaut. Captain Kelly earned numerous medals during his career, including the prestigious Distinguished Flying Cross.
Representative Giffords was meeting with constituents outside a supermarket near Tucson in January of 2011 when an assailant shot her and 18 other people. Her life since then has been a struggle to recover from severe injury, a struggle conducted with great courage, strength, and the determination to return to public service, which she has.
And as a physician, I must say how greatly I admire what you have accomplished.
Just a few months after the attack, she traveled to the Kennedy Space Center to watch the launch of the shuttle Endeavour commanded by her husband. It was his final journey as an astronaut. He retired from NASA and from the Navy later that year. In the years since then, they have published an inspirational memoir-- Gabby-- A Story of Courage and Hope.
In 2011, the year of the shooting and the year that Mark Kelly made his final space flight, he was featured on the cover of Esquire as one of 20 Americans of the year. In January 2014, three years to the day after the shooting, Gabrielle Giffords celebrated her progress by going skydiving. And later that year Fortune named her one of the World's 50 Greatest Leaders.
We are so pleased and so honored and so thrilled to have this accomplished alumna and her equally accomplished husband and partner in public service as our speakers today. Please welcome Captain Kelly and Gabby Giffords.
Thank you. Thank you very much.
Thank you, President Skorton, esteemed faculty, family, friends, students, and, of course, graduates. Thank you for the invitation to us to come and speak to all of you today. And it's great to be here in Ithaca on this beautiful day where gravity is a nice reliable 1g.
Where I can breathe oxygen at will.
And where it would appear that most of you are not space aliens.
But to the rest of you, let me just say, I come in peace.
Let me also say that we hope that we can match the sincerity, the insight, and the wit of your recent convocation speakers. We know we have big shoes to fill. In 2013 you had the Junior Senator from the great state of New Jersey, which is my home state, Cory Booker here. And I am honored to carry on this emerging Cornell tradition of having bald, middle aged guys like us speak here to all of you today.
And last year, you know last year you had the brilliant actor Ed Helms, who perhaps many of you from his time on the TV show The Office and where he played a Cornell grad. Now let's be honest, I am not going to be as funny as Ed Helms. I know that. Probably not even close.
But one thing I have going for me is, unlike Ed Helms, I did not spend eight years of making fun of Cornell on TV.
And another thing I have going for me is today I'm joined by a real Cornell grad, my wife Gabby.
So this is a special honor for us and it's a very special day for Gabby as she returns to Cornell to speak to all of you, her fellow Cornellians. Presidents Skorton, thank you for hosting us here today and thanks for your kind introduction. And as this will be your last convocation as the leader of this great university, Gabby and I want to thank you for your service to this school and to this community.
We know that you leave this institution stronger than when you arrived here and you should be proud of that. And we wish you well as-- or in your new role as the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, one of our national treasures. And I'd also like to add that the Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian on the National Mall, it's really cool but it needs some more spaceships.
And I can help with that.
No seriously, I know some people.
You got it.
Gabby and I also know that Cornell will be in good hands with its incoming president, Elizabeth Garret, the first woman ever--
The first woman ever to lead this institution. And as my wife Gabby Giffords always says, strong women get things done.
Graduates of the Cornell University class of 2015, congratulations on your enormous achievement. It's no secret that you've done a lot to get to this point. There are certainly other schools out there that are easier than Cornell, schools that don't push you that hard. I mean, Harvard isn't far from here.
And all of you here, you passed that swim test.
I'm trying to figure out why you have a swim test.
You did pretty well on your prelims and thank God for that thing called the mean, right? And somehow you made it through those slope days, and throughout your time at Cornell you learned to ask some really important questions. To ask why and to ask how things could be better. And to ask how we can have a country and a world that's more just, more equitable, and more peaceful.
So I know many of you are probably asking yourselves some questions right now like, why the hell did I stay out so late last night? And why didn't I go to the hot truck? It was probably my last chance. And who is this guy again? And how long do we have to wait to hear from Gabby?
Well, I'm here to tell you not to worry. I'm going to try not to be that long. And then you'll hear from my wife who has worked really, really hard so she could have the honor of addressing all of you today.
As you get ready to receive your degree tomorrow, you may be asking some other questions too. You may be asking yourself if it's OK to take a pass on ambition for a while. And you might be asking yourself, what are you going to do next? Or maybe you're asking yourself if you're willing to try and to fail.
But for the next few minutes, Gabby and I want you to forget about all that. For the next few minutes we want you to think about determination and courage. And we want you to think about service. And we want you to think about second chances.
It was really kind for you to invite us here today. And let's say, at least for me, it's very generous for you to believe that I might have something useful to say. After all, I almost didn't even get the chance to go to college, let alone an Ivy League school. Unlike my wife, I was not exactly an academic all-star. And neither was my twin brother, Scott, who also wound up being an astronaut, and by the way is currently orbiting the earth 250 miles above us on the International Space Station where he's serving for a year and from where he sends his personal congratulations.
We hear a lot of stories about astronauts, that they're really smart, whiz kids or they were chosen for this. But my brother Scott and I, we were not like that. We were not exactly what you would call model students. And as a result, our dad, a stereotypical tough New Jersey Irish detective, did not see us going to college. And I really can't blame.
So he did what he thought was the next best step that wasn't college and wasn't the police force. My dad recommended that my brother and I become welders.
And he even offered to put us in touch with the Welders Union. Now why my dad do that? I think my dad wanted to show us what he thought the future might hold for us if we chose our own path and not his. And this is where determination comes in.
I worked hard during my last years of high school and I finally made it to a school called the US Merchant Marine Academy. And it was there that that my determination really set in. And I came up with this crazy goal. I decided that I was going to become an astronaut and also to be the first person to walk on the planet Mars.
Well, I didn't make it to Mars, but I did become an astronaut and I did make it into space four times. And I didn't get there because of any kind of aptitude, just as many of you did not get here today just because you're smart. We all got to where we arrived at because we worked our butts off. All of us.
And it was because we had a goal. And tomorrow you're finally going to reach that goal. You are going to be graduates of Cornell University. So congratulations.
So now what do you do? Now you need another goal. And you have to have another goal.
Like your work towards this Cornell degree, reaching that goal might not go as smoothly as you hope. And I certainly know how that goes. After I graduated from college, I joined the Navy. I was going to become a Naval aviator and then an astronaut and I was gonna get to Mars.
So I join the Navy and I head down to Pensacola, Florida, for flight school. And it didn't take me long to figure out that I was kind of a crappy pilot.
And after months of training, you know what the Navy does? They send you to land on a ship for the first time. And this was when I could barely land on the runway. And I head out over the Atlantic Ocean out to the USS Forrestal and I show up overhead the ship.
Now when the Navy sends you to land on a ship for the first time, there is not anybody that is crazy enough to go with you.
So you go it alone. And I remember seeing the ship and it looks like a little postage stamp just floating in the ocean. And somehow I survived. I did two touch and go landings and then I did four rested landings with the tail up getting stopped and catapult and all that.
And then I get back that evening and I finally get debriefed by the instructor pilot that have been watching from the back of the ship. And you know what the first thing he says to me is? He says, are you sure this career for you?
He says, you did not do good. And I didn't. And I wasn't good at that.
And my point is the other pilots that did well that day out over the Atlantic Ocean did not go on to become test pilots or astronauts. And the one student who really struggled that day, me, did. Now why is that? And I truly believe this. I really believe that how good you are at the beginning of anything you try, it's not a good indicator of how good you can become.
Now some of you of might have struggled in organic chemistry, but you could get into med school and you could become a world class surgeon like the surgeon who saved Gabby's life. You may have gotten a real beat down in macroeconomics, but you could become the economist who helps change the policies that will rebuild our middle class. And you may have arrived here as a really bad writer and you might have really sucked in your writing seminar, but you could go on to win a Pulitzer.
So as you start new endeavors, remember that you can start out as a lousy pilot and end up commanding a rocket ship into space.
But also remember, you may fail to reach your goals. I never made it to Mars. But it is certainly always better to fail at something you really want than to fail at something you don't really care about. And I promise you that the journey is always going to be worth the effort.
As you leave Cornell, we promise you another thing. You're going to get a lot of advice on what you should do next. Some of these people that are sitting around you right now-- your family, friends, mentors-- they're going to have some very specific ideas of the path that you should take, ideas that you may not like.
And it's probably already started for a lot of you. It could be anything. Law school, dental school-- I don't know anything about dentists, but dental school. Selling insurance, running for Congress, becoming an astronaut. So Gabby and I are here to tell you that you do not have to take their advice.
You're welcome, parents.
Me? I rejected my own grandmother's advice. Because my Grandmother Kelly wanted me to go to law school. Even after I joined the Navy and even after I went to flight school and even after I flew combat missions over Iraq during Operation Desert Storm and even after I went to grad school and studied aeronautical engineering and became a test pilot, it was always, Mark, have you given more thought to applying to law school?
Now don't get me wrong, my grandmother, she was proud of me. But even after I joined NASA and had a chance to fly a rocket ship into space and back, Grandma was still really into this law school thing.
Before each of my four space missions, my crew members and I, we'd wake up on the morning of launch. And we'd know that there were really only two possible outcomes for that day. We'd be dead or we'd be floating in space looking down at this amazing planet.
So knowing that, we'd climb into the space shuttle. They'd close the hatch. They'd start the countdown. And as the clock got to zero, the computer would light the fuse to this giant freaking rocket. And we'd accelerate from 0 to 17,500 miles an hour in just eight and a half minutes until all of a sudden we were in space, orbiting the Earth.
And then we'd dock with the International Space Station. We'd orbit the planet for a couple weeks. We'd do an incredible amount of work and research. And then we'd undock and we'd fly back towards the Earth through the atmosphere at Mach 25. That's 25 times the speed of sound.
We'd re-enter as a glider from halfway around the planet. And we'd have only one chance to get this right. And eventually we'd land on a runway in Florida and coast to a stop. We were alive.
And each time after I returned from those space missions, I'd go see my Grandma Kelly.
And each time she'd give me a hug, she'd tell me she was glad that I was safe, and then after not too long she would say, Mark, about law school. I don't think it's too late.
She wasn't joking. Look, my grandmother loved me and she wanted what was best for me. And I hate to say this, but she was wrong. I shouldn't have gone to law school. I didn't want to go to law school. And I wouldn't have been a very good law student and I probably wouldn't have been a very good lawyer. And I tell you what, I wouldn't have been a happy lawyer.
So like Gabby, I chose my own path. And you should too. And as you chase those goals, whatever they are, just know that there will be some tough times ahead. At times it might be a steep climb, way steeper than Libe Slope. And this is where courage comes.
More than four years ago, on January 8 of 2011, I was at home. And Gabby was outside a Safeway supermarket doing that most basic thing required in a democracy, and that's listening to the people you represent. It was a quiet Saturday morning and I got a call my cellphone from Gabby's Chief of Staff, Pia. And Pia told me that Gabby had been shot.
She didn't have a lot of other information. About five minutes later I called her back. And that's when she gave me the really horrible news. That my wife had been shot in the head and a bunch of people had died.
Now Gabby and I hope and pray that your lives after Cornell will be free of tragedy. But know this. The road ahead will bring you some unpredictable moments and it times it will challenge you beyond what you ever imagined.
So prepare yourself for tough times the best you can. And in those tough moments, I want you to think about my wife Gabby. Gabby's always been an adventurer. And after graduating from Scripps College, she headed down to Chihuahua, Mexico, where she was a Fulbright Scholar and where she lived with a Mennonite family with no electricity and no running water for a year.
And then Gabby, as a native of southern Arizona, took on another big adventure-- two straight winters in Ithaca.
She wanted to study regional planning and development and she set her sites on one of the top programs in the country-- this university. So Gabby applied and she got the chance to come out Ithaca to interview with the dean. And Gabby and her mom made this long flight from Tucson to Boston and then drove the rest of the way.
And Gabby had applied for financial aid. But in the meeting, the dean told her that all the financial aid had been distributed. So Gabby, being Gabby, she looked the dean square in the eye and said, I'm a woman of the West and this school needs me.
So the dean apparently agreed and Cornell accepted Gabby and she got her financial aid. And she became a Cornellian. So she packed up her F 150 pickup truck and made the long drive from Tucson up here to Ithaca. And her time here was intellectually stimulating, academically challenging, and deeply rewarding. And she really loved living here. And for a girl from to Tuscon, the greenness of this campus and this region was something to behold.
And she loved the Cornell traditions. Still, her time here was a bit of an adjustment for Gabby. She'd lived in Arizona, in California, and Mexico. So the winters here were really, really tough on her and she had to figure out how to drive in the snow. And eventually in her pickup truck she had to figure out that to get up all these hills she had to load the bed of the pickup truck with a bunch of weights.
She spent a happy two years here and she was sad to leave. But like many of you, she was really excited about what was going to be next. And she might have been a little bit intimidated as well. And for Gabby, that next step was a kind of a fancy job in a big skyscraper in New York City.
But shortly after that, when her family needed her, she drove that same pickup truck back to Tucson and started changing tires the next day as she took over her family's tire and automotive business. Now this was personally and professionally a big risk for Gabby. But when your family calls, you step up. And she helped save the business.
And then she had an equally adventurous career in politics. She was elected six times. Never lost an election. Three of those to the United States Congress. And when she was in office, Gabby, just like now, I think she was really, really brave. In the moments when politics got really hot and angry, she stood by her principles and she never backed away from her commitment to things like women's equality, finding a smarter energy policy, protecting our men and women in uniform, or any of those issues that she really cared about.
And when tough votes came along, like the one on health care reform, Gabby voted her values. And she voted for what she truly believed was in the best interests of this country and her constituents. And she listened to them. And that's why she was in that Safeway parking lot on that Saturday morning-- to listen and to serve.
Now many of you have seen dramatic moments from Gabby's life on TV and in the newspaper. But trust me, the more braver moments happened when nobody was there to see them. After she was shot, Gabby had to rebuild. She had to grieve the lives lost in the shooting and come to terms with her own the new limitations.
She had to learn to walk again, to eat, and to do everything with her left hand. And she had to do the things in life that you and I take for granted, like speaking. You can't imagine the struggle of knowing exactly what you want to say, having all the words on the tip of your tongue, and not being able to get them out. That's what each and every day is like for Gabby now.
As Gabby began her recovery, I thought I saw some real courage and bravery. But then Gabby upped the ante. It was about seven months after she was injured. She was a full-time patient in a rehab hospital in Houston, Texas. But she was still a member of Congress. And in Washington there was this important and divisive vote coming up. It was a vote on the debt ceiling. Essentially, a vote on whether or not we should pay our bills.
And it was going to be a close vote. And Gabby eventually decided that she was going to be there to cast her vote. Now politically, this was not an easy vote for anybody. And I'm sure there are a lot of other members of Congress that would have loved to been able to say, I got shot. I'm in the hospital. I'm not coming.
But that's not what Gabby did. And that's not my wife. She decided she was going to go there to cast the vote. And on the morning of the vote, we had to get there fast. And I was at home about an hour south. And I got to say, one of the most dangerous things I've ever done is to pack for my wife for a trip.
After I packed this bag, I raced to the airport, I barely made it to the airplane on time. I met her there. We flew to Washington. Gabby's young female staff members, when we got there, opened up the suitcase and realized they needed to go to the mall.
She barely made it to the floor on time. Now I've seen some courageous things in my life. But I've never seen anything like Gabby barely out of the hospital to go to the floor of the House of Representatives to have her voice heard one more time. I think a New Jersey newspaper described this day the best. They said, "after months of rancor and pettiness, one small woman brought Washington to its feet."
They went on and said, "we can compromise on how we fund America. We cannot compromise on how we define America. That definition does not require words. Just look to Gabby Giffords."
Gabby cast that vote that day because she had a responsibility to do so and a responsibility to serve her constituents. Ultimately, Gabby decided to step down from Congress so she could focus full time on her recovery. And none of this was easy. It wasn't easy for Gabby to resign from Congress because, like me, she had chosen a career in public service. And she chose service for the same reason I did-- to make her community and this country a better, safer, and more just place to live.
It's because, as the saying, goes we are all in this together. You know it's a good saying when there's a bunch of ways to say it. You could say we're all in the same boat, which certainly makes sense to a Navy guy like me who spent a lot of time on boats. And Benjamin Franklin put in another way. He said, "we must all hang together, or most assuredly we will all hang separately."
And the basic idea here is we cannot succeed without the contribution of others. None of us can. And that's why you need to take a chance to serve as well, to help others succeed. And there are a lot of ways that you can do this. You don't have to be an astronaut or a Congresswoman. You can sign a petition. You can write a letter. You can make a donation. You can tutor another student.
You can vote. You can carry a banner in the front or you can stand near the back. You can yell into a megaphone or you can just listen carefully. You just need to do whatever you can to make life in your community and on this planet a little bit better. And if we know you at all, we know that you're ready because of your experience here at Cornell.
After Gabby made the hard decision to resign from Congress and focus on her recovery, I always knew that she would find another way to serve and to help others succeed. And this is where second chances come in. Nearly all of the people that experience the kind of injury that Gabby had, a bullet to the head at point blank range, die.
But Gabby lived and she grew stronger every day. And she was given another chance at life. And she was given another chance at service. And she sees that chance. She is comforted and held the hands of mothers in Minneapolis who had sought safety in a domestic violence shelter. She's testified before Congress, sitting on the other side of the dais, for the first time and faced her former colleagues.
She's spoken out about bitter bipartisanship that paralyzes this Congress in our country. And she's called for compromise and solutions in the middle. And she continues to be obsessed-- and I mean this as a compliment-- obsessed with encouraging young people to run for office and enter public service.
Now Gabby's always been the kind of person who's looking for a way to serve and who gets things done. And our friend and my hero, my personal hero, Jim Lovell the commander of Apollo 13, was also that kind of person. You see, Jim once told me that he was amazed-- and he remembers this. He remembers being amazed when he heard President Kennedy say that we should send a man to the moon.
You know the famous speech that Kennedy gave at Rice University. I think it was in 1962 where he said, "we choose to go to the moon this decade" and do the other things. Remember this speech? Not because they're easy, because they're hard?
Well, Jim says when he heard that speech, he thought it was impossible. He said the moon? No way. Then Jim wound up flying to the moon. Twice.
Now Jim has his own saying. He says there are three types of people. There are people who make things happen. There are people who watch things happen. And there are people who wonder what happened.
Now to be successful, you need to be one of the people that makes things happen. So as you move on to your life after Cornell, Gabby and I encourage you to be the kind of person that makes things happen. We need leaders. And you graduates are off to a pretty good start because you've made this degree from Cornell happen. And as a graduate of this school, an educated and thoughtful person, we hope you continue its tradition of service. Of serving others, of serving your community, in whatever way you can. Actually, we're asking you to do that, from Gabby and me.
Now I know that someday soon Gabby will be giving these kind of speeches all on her own. And trust me, if it was up to her I'd be at home cleaning the garage.
And she'd have you here all afternoon. After all, Gabby didn't get that name for no reason at all.
Now you might notice my wife is in a wheelchair today. So I'm going to tell the story behind this. And it's kind of one of those Gabby things.
Every year in Tucson, there's this big bike race called the Tour de Tucson and last November Gabby rode in it. She did 11 miles on her bike. And remember when I was talking about never giving up. So this year she set a new goal for the race. She wanted to ride the 40 miles.
I tried to talk her out of it because I was going to have to ride right next to her.
And a few weeks back, she'd just finished this long training ride with a bunch of friends. And she got off her bike and she fell and broke her leg. So she might be hobbling just a little bit, but she is as optimistic and as positive as ever. And I know she's going to be back on her feet and back on her bike soon. And she's still fighting, even if it's from a chair.
So now I want to introduce you to the woman who inspires me each and every single day and who has taught me to deny the acceptance of failure. Who's going to use her voice today to honor your hard work and to celebrate you and to challenge you to seize this incredible chance at service that's before you.
Ladies and gentleman, your proud fellow Cornellian and my wife, Congresswoman Gabby Giffords.
Greetings. I'm Gabby Gifford, but I used to be in Congress. But don't hold that against me.
Cornell University, thank you for inviting me here today. Graduates, your future shines bright. Find your purpose and go for it. Starting tomorrow, you can help change the world. The nation is counting on you to create, to lead, to innovate.
But today we celebrate you. Be bold, be courageous, be your best. Go Big Red. Thank you very much.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Thank you, Captain Kelly and Congresswoman Giffords, for sharing your inspiring words and guidance with us today. It is a true privilege to hear you speak and we are very grateful that you are here with us.
Your phenomenal accomplishments inspire us to dream bigger and remind us that no challenge is insurmountable. Not only do you both embody the Big Red spirit, but your passion and determination is unmatched. On behalf of the senior class, I am pleased to present you with the 2015 Senior Convocation Medallion.
Captain Kelly and Congresswoman Giffords, thank you again for being here and sharing this day with us. I would now like to take this opportunity to thank the individuals who have helped in making today's event possible. First, thank you to the 2015 Convocation Committee for your hard work and commitment. I appreciate all of your help and could not have done it without you. Please stand and be recognized.
I would like to thank my adviser, Jennifer Davis, and all of the volunteers that made this day possible. Thank you to the members of the administration and staff, especially President Skorton and Vice President Susan Murphy for their unyielding support in ensuring the success of Senior Convocation.
Both President Skorton and Vice President Murphy will be retiring from their roles this summer, and Cornell will not be the same without them. Their years of service and dedication to Cornell will benefit students for generations to come.
Finally, and most importantly, I would like to thank my family and all of our families. Without your support and guidance, we would not be here today.
Convocation marks the beginning of our graduation weekend, a chance not only to look ahead at all the future holds, but also look back and remember all that Cornell has given us. To call the last four years the journey would be an oversimplification. What once felt like an overwhelmingly large campus full of too many possibilities became the greatest place we've ever known and we found a home far above Cayuga's Waters.
We will all leave Cornell in a matter of days, but Cornell will never leave us. And so it's truly my pleasure to say congratulations to the Cornell University class of 2015.
Thank you. Now I ask that you please rise and join the university Chorus and Glee Club in the singing of our alma mater.
[SINGING "FAR ABOVE CAYUGA'S WATERS"]
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Former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, deliver the Senior Convocation address to graduating students and guests on Saturday May 23, 2015. The ceremony also features an address by Senior Class President Donald Edward Muir.