David J. Steinberg, President, Long Island University
Commencement Address—May 10, 2011
Long Island University at Riverhead
After a decade in which there were several lost opportunities and a great deal of fruitless searching, Osama Bin Laden has finally been caught and killed. But all the pundits suggest that the terrorist threat to America is likely to increase. Meanwhile, natural disasters abound because of Climate Change or bad luck. Hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and now vast floods prove that our society will be permanently at risk one way or another. California is overdue for an earthquake and Long Island for a direct hit by a hurricane.
And in the world of education the threats are as severe but in a different way. Because of single parent homes, television, computer games and a long litany of issues, our success in educating K-12 students is down sharply. Men are dropping out of the entire educational system at appalling rates. Academic dishonesty is rampant at every grade with parents often doing the homework of their kids, students buying online papers, and cheating on exams, rampant. “No Child Left Behind” has made education a bureaucratic maze, and the open assault on the dignity of teachers, their unions and tenure by politicians is at flood stage. To cap this litany, the prestige of being a teacher is sharply down in our society where teachers are viewed increasingly self-centered, money grubbing, and incompetent. Thus, as you graduate tonight, be it in Homeland Security or in Education, you are encountering gale-force winds blowing against you. There are few jobs, not enough money, to maintain threats to our rickety systems, security and inadequate respect for public service.
And yet our President, quite correctly, speaks about our commitment to education in terms of critical national security. He equates America's future greatness to our ability to recapture in our classrooms a capacity to deliver content and to generate an excitement for learning. He believes education requires more funding not less.
Let me now shift my focus from the collective to each of you individually to the domestic pressures that each of you has been forced to face. The cost of your degree has been extremely high. For those of you who are undergraduates, the sticker shock of moving from Suffolk Community College to an independent-sector institution has been a painful reality, one which has put an extraordinary dent in your budget. Most of your families have had to struggle to pay tuition and/or accept levels of debt unknown to previous generations of students. Moreover, your pursuit of your degree has put heavy additional burdens on spouses or parents or loved ones and, in particular, for our Masters candidates, on your children. Dinners have gone uncooked and precious moments reading to a child before bed have been surrendered. Leisurely dinners with candlelight and a bottle of wine are but a memory trace for those of you who are married and for all of you just plopping on the couch to watch a TV show has seemed a luxury beyond measure. Getting to this point has, thus, required a lot of grit from each of you.
Back in 1936, Franklin Roosevelt, delivering his second inaugural address, said that “to some generations much is given; of others much is expected. This generation has a rendezvous with destiny.” I suggest that each of you in this generation has a comparable rendezvous. Our society cannot prosper unless it exists in a safe and secure environment and one in which there is a promise of a better tomorrow through quality education. Despite all of the stormy conditions I already mentioned, we need quality teachers and sophisticated public servants. Consider what we have just witnessed in Japan after the earthquakes and tsunami, or the utter disaster that followed the New Orleans hurricane. We still have much to learn about Homeland Security and we need trained people in charge. In a parallel way the appalling pass rate on regents exams here in New York tells us that from pre-school all the way up the grade ladder, we are shortchanging what our kids need to master in an increasingly complex, scientifically focused and digitally delivered world. And so, I speak for the entire University when I celebrate the achievements of each of you. You must be the foot soldiers required for national renewal and public safety. Imagine how bleak the future would be if programs like these two did not exist; consider how much more vulnerable our nation would be without each of you.
And so, this is truly a joyful moment not only for those of us gathered here but for the society at large. Approximately three million men and women will graduate from their respective universities this spring and each should take pride that his or her school it has been the vehicle for vital knowledge transfer and, hopefully, wisdom. I know that many of you do not yet have a professional job. You must still wonder whether the sacrifices have been worth it. I am here to affirm that you are needed, wanted and celebrated. Do see yourself as vital agents of change. Whatever the stresses and strains of the local school district budget or contraction in funding, in agency budgets, do not surrender to today's gloom.
In “A Man For All Seasons,” Sir Thomas Moore is speaking with Richard Rich, a bright young man not sure of his future. Moore tells him, “be a teacher,” Rich says, “and if I am a great teacher who will know it?” Moore says, “You, your students, God, not a bad audience.” Thus, even though this is an uncertain time, remain resolute, proud, and confident in yourself. Your University is sure you are well prepared to be a foot soldier in America's renewal. You do have that rendezvous with destiny. We send you forth grateful for your persistence and success. As that post-galactic philosopher, Yoda, said, “May the force be with you.”