Saturday, May 30, 2009

Cornell University Commencement

Time flies. It has been 4 years since I left my alma mater - Cornell University. Below is the commencement ceremony write-up, as well as the commencement speaker - David Plouffe, Election Campaign Manager for Barack Obama.

Those are quoted from here and here .

Skorton urges graduates to focus on public service, not an uncertain future
By Susan Kelley

The 6,000 Cornellians who graduated today (May 24) have far fewer employment opportunities than two previous generations of alumni. But rather than dwell on their own uncertain futures, they were encouraged at Commencement ceremonies "to realize that the world stands in desperate need of your skills and talents."

Speaking under sunny skies in Schoellkopf Stadium, Cornell President David Skorton began his theme of service by congratulating those graduates who have joined such service organizations as the Peace Corps, Teach for America and AmeriCorps, and the 18 ROTC cadets commissioned May 23.

He departed from his prepared remarks to 32,000 family, friends, faculty, trustees and other university leaders to also congratulate a few seniors who could not attend Commencement: members of the men's lacrosse team. They are in Foxborough, Mass., preparing to take on defending NCAA champion Syracuse University on Memorial Day. It will be Big Red's first fight for the NCAA title in 21 years. "Somehow," Skorton said, "I think they would rather be there today than here."

The Class of 2009 faces daunting economic challenges, Skorton continued. Nationally this year, less than 20 percent of graduating college seniors who applied for a job actually have one, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers -- a decrease of more than 30 percent from two years ago. Nonetheless, he urged the graduates to embrace optimism. "I have no doubt that virtually all of today's graduates will find satisfying jobs -- and that many of you will do it by a road that will be distinctively your own."

Cornellians have the advantage of a liberal arts education, perhaps "the most useful and versatile education of all" especially in a time of national and personal economic uncertainty, he said. A liberal arts education offers five important "habits of mind": critical thinking, self-expression, a nuanced view of the world that comes from exposure to the arts and humanities, a sense of ethics and cross-cultural understanding, he said. "The depth, the richness and the diversity of our ideas inspire cross-fertilization and originality."

At the term "cross-fertilization," one section of soon-to-be veterinarians gave a rousing cheer. The audience applauded as Skorton ad-libbed, "If it has to do with nature, folks from CALS and the Vet School will be there."

But the audience offered its strongest applause when Skorton talked about the importance of ethics. "Indeed," he said, "some would argue that a lack of an ethical foundation is at the root of many of the problems we face in our society."

One thing is clear despite the uncertainty of the future, he said: that building a path to a better tomorrow will require the deep knowledge, skills, ethics and habits of mind that come from a liberal arts education. "The world needs what you have to offer now more than ever."

"I urge you to be creative and forceful in bringing your skills to bear on the problems we face, including the current economic dilemma, 'to be more useful' to your country and to humankind."

He continued: "We need your creativity, your courage, your optimism. We need your clarity of purpose. We need you to volunteer in your communities, to serve on school boards, to participate in the political process. We need you to contribute to nonprofit organizations. Most of all, we need you to put those hard-won skills and habits of mind to use not only in your professional lives, but in service to your community and to the world."

Sending seniors on way 'with passion,' Obama's campaign manager salutes young for historic election
By George Lowery

Barack Obama would not be the 44th president without the votes of people under 30, observed the president's election campaign manager David Plouffe, before giving his address to Cornell's Senior Convocation in Schoellkopf Stadium today (May 23).

Plouffe, whom Obama called "the unsung hero" of the campaign, added, "We would not have won the Iowa caucuses if younger people had not turned out at historic levels that no one thought was possible, and that happened time and time again" during the campaign.

"One thing I learned in our campaign was that this generation of young Americans need not wait 20 or 25 years before they take the stage," Plouffe continued. "They're ready to lead right now. They're ready to innovate. We need them. We need their leadership. They helped determine the course of history in our campaign, but I think they can determine the course of history in ways large and small, right away."

It was a theme that Plouffe continued in his convocation address, telling the graduating seniors they "are now prepared to play a large role in shaping history for generations to come, who will be studying their accomplishments in these hallowed halls." But, he warned them, "You must have passion for your work. And you'd better really treasure and get the most out of your non-working hours ... those are the increments of time that will define your life."

At a meeting with the media before entering Schoellkopf, the slightly built, boyish-looking Plouffe, 42, noted that for the first time in decades the share of votes cast by people over age 65 in a presidential election declined, "not because older voters turned out in lower numbers, just because younger people participated." Of 5,000 people working in the Obama campaign, he said, "probably 95 percent of them were under 25."

He said: "I'm excited to be here because I'm excited about this group of people who are beginning to enter leadership roles in our country, and I couldn't be more excited to watch the work, talent and dedication they're going to bring to improve our country and our world in the years to come."

Credited with running one of the most effective and innovative presidential campaigns in history, raising $500 million on the Internet alone, Plouffe said grass-roots outreach, particularly in battleground states such as North Carolina, Ohio and Indiana, was equally important. "Change is never going to emanate from Washington; it's got to come from the country to Washington," he said.

"So many people in our country -- not just young people -- live most their lives through technology. Why should their interaction with politics or our campaign be any different? No matter who you are ... you have to realize how people are living their lives. You've got to reach them at their doors, in their e-mail boxes, on their Web pages, on their radios and TVs, and I think we did a good job of that."

Young volunteers helped shape the campaign's electronic strategies. "I think one thing that's never been properly appreciated is how many people -- parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts -- supported Barack Obama because their children felt so passionately about him. I think millions of people voted simply for that reason alone," Plouffe said. "It's a very powerful thing."

At Senior Convocation, it was announced that the Class of 2009 raised $36,655 for its class gift. The gift will fund the Class of 2009 Stephen H. Weiss Memorial Scholarship, named in honor of the late Cornell trustee, to benefit Cornell seniors. Trustee Martin Tang '70 matched the class gift, presented to President David Skorton on a giant check for $85,654.

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