Draw on your LIU Brooklyn community. Everyone here wants you to succeed. We need you to succeed, because you are our future
Thank you, Mr. Sanford, for that warm welcome, and for advocating for programs that enhance the well-being of New York City’s public school children—and for understanding the powerful and lasting impact of inspirational teachers.
I want to also acknowledge Chairman Krasnoff, President Cline, members of the Board of Trustees, Ms. Haynes, and distinguished faculty.
And my heartfelt congratulations to your valedictorian, Marisa Cheedie, to all the graduates of LIU Brooklyn’s Class of 2016—and to your proud parents and families.
Standing here in my cap and gown, accepting this honorary doctorate, I too feel like a student. Believe it or not, I still take courses and absorb information from a variety of sources.
So I want to thank you for this great honor. It reinforces my belief that learning is a lifelong journey.
Now, my staff knows that I am hesitant to deliver commencement addresses. I feel that young graduates would rather hear from a peer than from someone who has already lived the greater portion of her life.
But I was delighted to accept this invitation because of my personal and enduring connection with LIU Brooklyn.
As a teacher, I was fortunate to take Saturday courses at LIU that informed my instruction.
As a superintendent, I partnered with LIU on science courses at a time when they were not routinely offered in elementary schools.
As Chancellor, I’ve been impressed by your willingness to work with many of our Brooklyn high schools: holding parent information sessions on the college application process; reducing credit costs so that college-ready high school students can enroll in college courses before they graduate from high school; and allowing school leaders to offer Summer Bridge on your campus.
You’ve also hosted professional learning opportunities for principals, assistant principals, teachers, and parent coordinators. And so much more.
Including your advancement of the Sanford Harmony Program, which supports the social-emotional learning of children, and the Sanford Inspire Program, which offers professional development to support the work of inspiring teachers.
I am also here as a lifelong Brooklynite. As someone who grew up and taught school in nearby Cobble Hill, I know what your presence has meant to the revival of Downtown Brooklyn.
When you opened your doors in 1926, there was no Barclays Center, no Brooklyn Academy of Music, no chic boutiques or trendy restaurants. You came to what was an essentially forgotten borough. And, remarkably, your founders committed to serving a diverse group of students who otherwise might not have realized their dreams of a high-quality, four-year college education.
As I look into the audience, I see myself in the students graduating today. I imagine that some of you are first-generation Americans, as I was. You may be working one or two jobs to put yourself through college, as I did. I sold women’s hats at Macy’s, and did clerical work for a book store. You may be married or raising children, as I was during graduate school.
My journey certainly was not an easy one, but I was determined to improve myself. I never lost sight of the lesson I learned from my father: that people who worked hard to achieve something valued it more deeply.
I always believed that education was something worth sacrificing for.
I know that there are many proud parents sitting here today who sacrificed so you could attend this institution. Their faces are glowing over your achievement.
Despite the many challenges I faced, I never doubted that it was my destiny to become a teacher, a wife, and a mother—and that my college education would help me excel in all three of those roles.
As a teacher, I used my training to create classrooms, schools, and policies that had a real impact on New York City public school children. Nothing is more exhilarating than knowing that every day you have made a difference in someone’s life.
As a wife, I learned that a person’s path is always easier when a partner joins you, supports you, and encourages you. This was especially critical in the 1960s, when married women with young children were not expected to pursue a college education. My mother-in-law was one person who was vehemently opposed to my choice.
But there I was “leaning in” well before Sheryl Sandberg coined the term. I’m delighted that a younger generation of women has discovered the value of being a 50/50 partner in a relationship.
As a mother, taking night classes to earn my several master’s degree, left me with less time for my two young daughters. But my commitment to my education demonstrated to them that a person is never too old or too smart to continue learning.
Finally, I learned one other lesson from my father that is appropriate for this occasion. He said that when adults make sacrifices so that you can achieve your dreams, you owe it to others to give back and share what you have learned.
Whether you are going into education or the arts, business or technology, public service or health sciences, please pay it forward, help those less fortunate you encounter along the way. And, by all means, continue to make your parents, guardian, or a mentor proud.
Draw on your LIU Brooklyn community. Everyone here wants you to succeed. We need you to succeed, because you are our future.
Looking out at your ecstatic faces, I have no doubt that you are ready to make your mark and change the world.