Bloomberg Talks Politics At Penn Commencement

This story was written by Juliette Mullin,

Standing in the middle of a sunny Franklin Field and before a sea of excited students in black robes and mortarboard caps, University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann started out the 252nd Commencement Ceremony by warning the graduates that, before receiving their diplomas, "you must prove yourselves worthy of your Penn degrees by performing one last task: Endure our speeches."

But despite the light-hearted start, the speakers of Monday's ceremony went on to address politics and activism in their remarks to the graduating class.

Commencement speaker and Mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg centered his speech on the upcoming elections.

"You've come at age when no one can say my vote doesn't matter because the election of 2000 proved that every vote counts - or at least every vote that didn't have a hanging chad, but that's another story," he said.

Though the owner of Bloomberg LLP told the crowd that he had yet to decide who he would to vote for in the upcoming election, he offered insight into what he believed American voters were looking for in their president.

"People want someone who can mobilize both parties to confront the big, long term problems that they have so carefully avoided -- health care, immigration, social security, poverty, infrastructure, budget deficits, public education, you name it," he said.

In his speech, Bloomberg outlined four "virtues to lead by:" independence, honesty, accountability and immigration. He stressed that these were the qualities Americans should look for in their choice of candidate.

Mixing his serious message with jokes about everything from his speculated run for presidency to his cameo in the Sex and the City movie that was cut in production - "Turns out they wanted more sex and less city" - Bloomberg received much warm applause and a standing ovation for his speech.

In a similar vein, Gutmann's address highlighted the activism of this generation and Penn students in particular.

"Yours is the first generation of young adults in more than 40 years to have turned on to civic action, tuned into public affairs and turned out to mobilize and vote in huge numbers - and all without the direct threat of a military draft, which mobilized many of my generation," she said.

Gutmann pointed out examples of Penn activism this year, emphasizing the efforts of members of every Penn school to help their community and get involved. She encouraged students to continue their involvement in their communities after their graduation from Penn, both for their own happiness and to help change the political and social landscape.

"I can't stop the cynics from stamping an early expiration date on your engagement," she said. " Only you can prove the cynics wrong."

The honorary degree recipients included Bloomberg; Paquito D'Rivera, a musician and composer; Drew Faust, Harvard University president; Lila Gleitman, professor emerita of psychology; Bert O'Malley, chairman of the Molecular and Cellular Biology Baylor College of Medicine; Cyril Ramaphosa, the former secretary general of the African National Congress; and Neil deGrasse Tyson, the director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History.

Student reaction to the ceremony was mixed, with some surprised by the political tone of Bloomberg's address.

"[To some] it seemed like he was campaigning," sai graduating College student Benjamin Ben-David.

But Ben-David, who said he loved the speech, didn't feel that it was too political.

"I think he was just talking to Philadelphians," he said.