“The wind of freedom has always blown strongly here at Stanford,” said New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg during his keynote address — which touched on entrepreneurship, immigration reform and the American Dream — to the Class of 2013 at Stanford’s 122nd Commencement ceremony. “No other university in the world has so profoundly shaped our modern age.”
“Stanford is known for its bold entrepreneurial spirit,” said President John Hennessy in welcoming Bloomberg, describing the New York City Mayor as sharing that trait.
“As a young boy, Mike Bloomberg learned the importance of service and giving back,” Hennessy went on to note. “Over the past 12 years, he has been the city’s champion…One of the things I most admire about Mayor Bloomberg is his willingness to take a stand, especially on issues that are divisive.”
“Really I just came to try and get Stepfan Taylor [’13]’s autograph,” Bloomberg jested in opening, before later noting that “I did see the guy dressed up [for the Wacky Walk] as the Big Gulp. Very funny.”
Bloomberg briefly touched on distinct aspects of Stanford culture, from Full Moon on the Quad to the abbreviations of campus locations, but noted that he felt “right at home” on campus given the quality of higher education and Stanford’s entrepreneurial spirit.
He subsequently touched on Stanford’s historic role in driving Silicon Valley’s growth, before briefly addressing the University’s failed bid for a New York City campus.
“No hard feelings,” he said. “It didn’t work out, but I think, in the end, it will.”
Bloomberg suggested that Stanford graduates interested in entrepreneurship may eventually make their way across the country to New York’s “Silicon Alley” — in part because “there’s more to do on a Friday night than go to the Pizza Hut in Sunnyvale” –before he turned back to the present and encouraged graduates to seek their own path in the world.
“Stanford is more than a world-class university,” he said. “It attracts people who are trying to discover and shape the future…You leave [Stanford] with the wind of freedom at your back and a world of possibility at your feet.”
“Those who do what they love often find more riches than they ever imagined possible,” he added.
Bloomberg recounted his own employment experience, singling out being laid off from Salomon Brothers — after attempting to reform the firm’s use of financial information — as a turning point in his career and one that ultimately enabled — despite the fear of starting anew — his later success in business.
“The idea that you can find a way to do something better, faster and cheaper has driven American innovation for centuries,” he noted. “I had a dream that I believed in, and thankfully I had the courage to follow it.”
“If you won’t risk failure, you won’t fulfill your potential,” Bloomberg added. “You’ve got that opportunity, and it’s the most valuable thing you’ll own in your life. Don’t waste it.”
Bloomberg reiterated that sentiment in encouraging graduating students to challenge themselves and fulfill their potential no matter what field they plan to enter.
“Roll up your sleeves every day and get down to work,” he emphasized. “The secret of success isn’t much of a secret…The American Dream has no shortcuts and no endpoint…It is up to you to embrace that opportunity for yourself.”
Turning to a more national issue, Bloomberg castigated the United States’ current immigration laws, calling them nonsensical and suggesting that “every STEM student should have a green card stapled to their diploma.”
“If those in Washington [D.C.] had any sense at all, they’d be begging you to stay in the United States,” he told graduating international students. “It’s the most backwards economic policy you could possibly come up with.”
He struck an optimistic tone, however, when reviewing the progress of efforts to bring about comprehensive immigration reform, noting that one such attempt is currently under serious consideration in Congress.
“We have a real chance of passing sensible, comprehensive immigration reform this year,” he said. “If we are going to win the future, we’ve got to keep the future here.”
Bloomberg also cited the efforts of two Stanford faculty members — Professors of Law Pam Karlan and Jeff Fisher — in advancing another civil rights issue by arguing for same-sex marriage in front of the Supreme Court.
“In the whole history of the United States, no law limiting the rights of a particular class of people has ever stood the test of time, and neither will [laws like the Defense of Marriage Act],” he said. “Marriage equality is the civil rights issue of our time.”
Framing American history as a series of struggles to live up to the ideals enshrined in the nation’s founding documents, Bloomberg called on graduating students to continue the fight.
“Today, that struggles continues,” he said. “It’s your turn to lead it…Go out and pursue your American Dream and help make it a reality for others.”
According to Hennessy, the University conferred 1,701 bachelor’s degrees, 2,325 master’s degrees and 1,055 doctoral degrees.