2017 University Commencement Greetings

May 14, 2017

Good morning. Let me add my personal congratulations to all our Rutgers graduates. This morning we honor you—the largest and the most accomplished graduating class in the history of our university—the Class of 2017!

What a wonderful day. Who would have known yesterday afternoon that we would wake up to the sunshine and the clear skies—just for you!

I also want to extend a welcome to the families who have supported you, both emotionally and financially … to the faculty who educated and inspired you … to the friends who have stood by you. As graduates, your achievements today are a testament to their example and their guidance. And a special word of appreciation to all the mothers who are here today, in person or in spirit: Happy Mother’s Day! What better Mother’s Day gift can there be than seeing your son or your daughter receive their diploma—finally!

Today, however, the focus is on our graduates. You have already achieved so much. You have won international competitions. You have won prestigious scholarships. Some among you—the first cohort of our Rutgers Future Scholars program—have literally been working toward their degrees since they finished seventh grade! 

And now you depart for new jobs and new careers or for further study at the finest universities in the world. We can’t wait to see what you are going to achieve in the years to come.

But it’s not just academic achievement that makes a Rutgers graduate stand out in the world. Each of you knows what it’s like to work hard for what you achieve.

Each of you knows that success in life comes from dedication to your goals and commitment to your community, and that success often requires the support of your friends and your family. And each of you has learned the lesson that success comes from looking at the world with an open mind and learning from others. 

Don’t lose sight of the fact that you have been members of one of the most diverse student communities in the nation. Last year on this podium, President Barack Obama recognized that important fact when he said about Rutgers, “America converges here.”  Your diversity is not simply a piece of demographic fact. This diversity itself has made you stronger. You know what it means to come from very different backgrounds and to hold different points of view, and yet to recognize in each other the dignity that every individual in the community deserves.

Over the past year, you’ve set an example for navigating difficult political and historical issues. Who could not admire the passion with which you—forcefully yet peacefully—expressed your views? You showed leadership. You showed mutual respect. You made us proud. And I believe you made a difference.

You also understand personally what the great Martin Luther King meant when he said, “We may have come here on different ships, but we’re all in the same boat now.” In many cases, you are living examples of the importance of immigration to the future of our society.

Today you leave Rutgers as keepers of our core values of inquiry, integrity, diversity, excellence, and service. You leave here with the store of knowledge and a depth of understanding that will serve you well in the years ahead. You are well prepared. You are ready.

This event marks a commencement—a starting, not an ending. It’s time to begin the next phase of your life’s journey. As you do, I urge you to accept a challenge. I challenge you to challenge the status quo. To change your communities—no, beyond that, to change lives. Don’t just go out and make a fortune. Make a difference. I am confident that you will.

Again, to the Class of 2017, I offer my personal congratulations and Godspeed.