University Commencement Greetings 2019

May 19, 2019

Good morning!  What a day! 

I am delighted to welcome all the families, partners, and friends who are here today to celebrate with our graduating students. Welcome also to the faculty who have taught, challenged, and inspired our students, and whose own scholarship moves society forward. And welcome to our honorary degree recipients, whose lives and careers speak to our highest ideals.  We are glad you are all with us for this incredible day on the Rutgers calendar.

Now to today’s graduates—the stars of our show!  Let me add my personal congratulations to each one of you here in New Brunswick, and to all nearly 19,000 members of the Rutgers University Class of 2019 throughout the state. Together, you make up the largest graduating class in our history—and one of our most accomplished ever. Some of you have won highly competitive scholarships for graduate study abroad.  Others have distinguished themselves in academic and athletic competitions, others in the arts or in student leadership. And all of you will leave this stadium today with a degree from Rutgers, one of the oldest and finest public universities in the country. 

And we are supremely confident that you will go on to do amazing things. 

Over the past few years, you have wrestled with big ideas and global issues, debated political positions, and sought a more just society. No Rutgers graduating class is better positioned to impact society, to shape policy, to make a difference—than you. Now, as the newest group of Rutgers alumni, it falls to you to become fully engaged members of our civil society.  Now it’s time to accept as your own responsibility the very issues that you have been debating, to become the agents of the change you seek. All of us on this stage know how much you deserve the degrees you will receive today. Earning a Rutgers degree was hard work. Making a difference in the world will be harder. Leading a life worthy of yourselves and of those you love may be harder still.

One hundred and fifty years ago, Charles Dickens wrote about the best of times and the worst of times.  This apparent contradiction is as true today as it was then.  In your time at Rutgers you have seen our world at its best—and at its worst. You know the world you are entering is a complicated mix of endless possibilities and seemingly intractable problems.  But that’s where you come in.

Here’s the deal. It’s not just academic achievement that make 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 achievement in life comes from dedication to your goals and commitment to your community, and often requires the support of your friend and family.  And each of you has recognized that success comes from looking at the world with an open mind and learning from others.

We also trust that during your time here on the Banks, you have also deepened your sense of responsibility and civic purpose to work for a better world. For a safer and more inclusive community.  For a more sustainable environment.  For a more just society.  We need your energy, compassion, and initiative.  We need you out there, putting your ideas to work for the common good, accomplishing the things that we—the generation before you—did not get done.

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 this challenge. I challenge you to question the status quo.  I challenge you 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.  Congratulations and Godspeed.