In what is consistently my favorite article of the year, the Times excerpts from the best commencement speeches. Here are my two favorites.
Cory A. Booker
MAYOR OF NEWARK
“There was a group of kids that used to hang in the lobby of my building. … One in particular, he reminded me of my dad. He had that quick wit, that great swagger. …
One month into my time as mayor, I got another call for a shooting. It was on Court Street in our city, and I go down there and I do the same thing. I’m going to people, telling them about our plans, telling them that we had to pull together, that we were going to fight through this crime, that we were going to drive down the violence. I barely paid attention to the dead body on the sidewalk and another one being rolled into an ambulance.
After that night of being important, of being mayor of New Jersey’s biggest city, I went back to my home in the high-rises of Brick Towers. I sat there with my BlackBerry reviewing the incident reports of the day, and then it came to that shooting on Court Street. And I looked at that BlackBerry, and I saw the name of the murder victim. It was the kid from my lobby. It was the young man who was my father. It was this smart and charismatic young man who God had put in front of me every single day.
I looked at my BlackBerry praying that the name would somehow change, praying that it was a mistake or maybe not the same young man, but it was him. … How could we all crowd a funeral home for his death? Where were we for his life? God had put him right in front of my face, but I was charging off, to do important things. I could not see what was right in front of me.”
GOVERNOR OF CALIFORNIA
University of California, Berkeley
“I am not saying that the big issues are going to be settled easily, that greenhouse gases will soon be curbed or that inequality will be quickly reversed. But I do affirm, based on my experience, that people can exercise power wherever they are in society. Certainly not on every occasion but, at crucial moments, imaginative and bold people make a difference. … You have the intellect. Make sure you have the will.”