Addressing the University at Buffalo Class of 2012 ~ May 13, 2012
Good morning, everyone! I’d like to start by wishing all the mothers and grandmothers with us a very Happy Mother’s Day! As a parent, I can’t think of a better gift than watching one’s son or daughter receive their diploma. And warmest thanks to all the family members and mentors who have supported our graduates over the years.
Most of all, I want to congratulate you—the University at Buffalo Class of 2012!
You’ve taken your last exams and written your final papers—as undergraduates, at least. But I do have one last hard question for you—for all of us—today. That is just this: What have we learned over the past four years?
I’m asking not only what you have learned in the classroom, but also what we have learned as a society. When you entered here four years ago, our nation and world seemed to be heading deeper into crisis, on many levels. Now, there is a growing sense of light at the end of the tunnel. We are by no means out of the woods, but there are reasons to be cautiously optimistic.
Being “cautiously optimistic” means learning from past challenges while looking to the future with a hopeful outlook and open mind. This is the essence of what we do at universities like UB. This is what it means to be an educated citizen.
President Kennedy once remarked that “The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.” And for us, as educated citizens, this is the time to repair and strengthen our society—not when the next crisis hits, but now, when the outlook is getting brighter. As we see slow signs of economic and social recovery, we can’t just hope these upward trends continue. We must make it so.
We should start by asking, as I just did, “what have we learned?” What has the economic crisis taught us about fiscal responsibility for consumers, corporations & governments? What have we learned about cultural tolerance and the democratic process after years of political unrest? What have we discovered about the impact of our energy consumption—economically, socially, and environmentally?
At UB, you have not just sat back passively and read about these issues in textbooks. You’ve been working alongside the faculty making these conversations. Now it is up to you to take what you have learned, and share it for the greater public good.
You are the reason we have such optimism for the future. We are tremendously proud of all you have achieved as students. And we can’t wait to see what you will contribute to the world as UB alumni. Congratulations, and best wishes for much continued success!