Introduction of Cory Booker

It gives me great pleasure to introduce this year’s Commencement speaker: Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, New Jersey.

Energetic. Upbeat. Inspirational. Honest broker. Determined to make a difference. Ranked among the top 10 for the 2010 World Mayor Prize. A “former Rhodes Scholar with Clintonian charisma.” Fearless. Determined. Committed.

That’s how the press has described Cory Booker, and he is all of that.

But, that leaves out the two most important things: Cory is a two-degree Stanford alumnus and a former member of the Stanford Cardinal football team!

Born in Washington, D.C., he grew up in a predominantly white suburb of New Jersey. His parents were among the first black executives at IBM. They instilled a sense of honor, a commitment to justice and opportunity, and a strong work ethic in their children, as well as the ability to move easily among different groups.

As an undergraduate at Stanford, he studied political science. Interested in helping urban youth even then, he volunteered at a student-run crisis hot line, reaching out to young people in East Palo Alto. He served as senior class president and, as a student athlete, earned honorable mention in the Academic All Pac-10. After receiving his BA in 1991, he earned his second Stanford degree, an MA in sociology.

Awarded a Rhodes Scholarship, he studied modern history at Oxford, where he received an honors degree in 1994. He earned his JD from Yale Law School in 1997.

In his second year at Yale, he moved to Newark. At the time, it was one of the poorest, most violent cities in the nation. But it was also a city with a glorious history. Booker has often described cities as “the last frontier to make real the promise of America,” and he believed that Newark was just such a city.

In 1998, at the age of 29, he was elected to the Newark City Council, where he focused on cleaning up the neighborhoods. Some of his methods were unorthodox. In one of the most well-known examples, he went on a hunger strike and camped out in the middle of a drug-ridden housing project – an act that prompted dozens of neighbors to join him because they were concerned about his safety. And it worked. Newark’s Mayor Sharpe James – who had adamantly opposed earlier efforts at reform – agreed to increase police patrols in the area.

In 2002, Booker decided to take on City Hall, literally. He ran for mayor against the four-term incumbent. After losing in a campaign later chronicled in Street Fight, an Academy Award-nominated documentary, he withdrew from the public eye but not from public service.

He remained focused on transforming his city. And four years later, he ran for mayor again.

In 2006, Cory Booker was elected the 36th mayor of Newark by a huge margin. Currently serving his second term, he has worked with what one reporter called “epic determination” to reduce crime and create an urban environment that nurtures families and the economy. He understood that a city cannot flourish unless families feel safe.

He tackled crime prevention in a typically Booker way – hands-on. Against the advice of everyone, he patrolled the streets at night with his security team. He partnered with the Newark business community and raised millions to install more surveillance cameras. He hired a well-respected police chief who put more officers on the streets in evenings and on weekends, when crime was most rampant. Within two years, murders dropped by 36 percent, and on April 1, 2010, Newark marked its first month in 44 years without a homicide.

Under his leadership, the city has also added more affordable housing, increased the number of parks and green spaces and attracted millions in private philanthropy. After Booker expressed deep concern about low academic achievement, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg committed $100 million to help improve Newark’s schools.

Despite a grueling schedule, he remains one of the nation’s most accessible mayors – responding to personal appeals, holding regular office hours and using social media to stay in touch. He has more than a million followers on Twitter, and a few years ago when one constituent tweeted him directly that she was concerned about her 65-year-old father shoveling his driveway on New Year’s Eve, he responded, “Please … don’t worry about your dad … I’ve got salt, shovels & great volunteers.” And, yes, the mayor and his team shoveled that driveway!

Since his days as a Big Brother, Cory has been concerned about at-risk youth. When a couple of teenagers in Newark were arrested for spray-painting graffiti, including the phrase “Kill Booker,” Cory decided to mentor them, taking them out for meals and arranging tutoring, but also setting standards for dress, behavior and language.

Two months ago, on arriving home, he saw smoke coming from the building next door. He heard a woman scream that her daughter was trapped upstairs. His security detail tried to keep him back but he said, “This woman is going to die if we don’t help her.” Help her he did, suffering second-degrees burns and smoke inhalation. Hours later, he was back online, tweeting reassurances to everyone concerned and praising his security officer for his help. Newark fire officials characterized Cory’s rescue as “very heroic” but “very dangerous.” Indeed, Cory told Oprah Winfrey that he was terrified and thought they might not make it.

But that seems to me to characterize Cory’s service: He has the courage to do the right thing, even when it is scary, and that courage, that conviction, has helped improve the lives of people in his community and beyond. He exemplifies the potential of every Stanford graduate to make a profound difference in the world.

Please join me in warmly welcoming one of Stanford’s own, Newark Mayor Cory Booker.

Concluding remarks

Graduates of Stanford University, on behalf of all members of the Stanford family, I congratulate and commend you. You have made many contributions to our community of scholars during your time at Stanford, and you have our deep thanks.

Before we close, I would like to reflect for a few minutes on a phrase you have heard several times today. As each group of graduates was presented to me for the conferral of degrees, I responded by admitting you to the “rights, responsibilities and privileges” associated with a degree from Stanford University.

We believe a Stanford education brings a responsibility to make good use of your knowledge, to work to make the world better and to help ensure that succeeding generations have the same kinds of opportunities you have had here at Stanford. Today, you join a long line of distinguished alumni, who – like Mayor Cory Booker – put their education to good use.

I have made it a Commencement tradition to talk about a member of the Stanford family who took his or her responsibilities to future generations seriously.

This year, I want to talk about someone who had a profound and lasting impact on this university: the late Richard Wall Lyman, Stanford’s seventh president.

His death last month was a tremendous loss for our community. He was a man of great strength and integrity, and it was a privilege to know him.

I doubt that many of our graduates are aware of Professor Lyman and his history at Stanford; he was president when I joined the faculty in 1977. Twenty-three years later he spoke at my inauguration, noting with characteristic directness, “Clearly, it is not all that hard to succeed to a university presidency – it happens all the time. What is not easy, as all who have held the position know, is to succeed in one.”

By any measure, Dick Lyman succeeded. And he succeeded in the face of extraordinary challenges, guiding Stanford through some of the most difficult years in its recent history.

Born in Philadelphia and raised in New Haven, Connecticut, he attended Swarthmore College, but his undergraduate studies were interrupted when he was drafted for service in World War II. When he returned to finish his degree, he met Elizabeth Schauffler, widely known as “Jing.” They married the summer after their graduation and then headed for Harvard, where Dick earned his master’s and doctorate in history.

In 1958, Dick and Jing and their four children arrived at Stanford. Throughout their time, Jing was an active and involved partner, supporting Dick, appearing at innumerable Stanford events, but also pursuing her own interests in areas such as gender equality and fair housing.

When they arrived, the university was perceived as a quiet, regional school, but that would dramatically change over the course of the next two decades.

Dick Lyman was a great teacher; even his 8 a.m. classes were highly rated by students. But he was also a strong and effective leader. In 1964, he became associate dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences; three years later, he was provost, serving two presidents, Wallace Sterling and Kenneth Pitzer. In 1970, he became Stanford’s seventh president.

The late 1960s and early 1970s were a time of great unrest for the nation and for its universities. Students participated in the civil rights movement and antiwar protests. They questioned everything – from the university’s admission policies to its governance. It was a turbulent period, when protests could suddenly erupt into violence. As if that were not enough, the university also found itself in financial straits.

Dick Lyman guided Stanford through that turbulence, through protests, fires, bombings, various shutdowns and difficult financial challenges. Under his leadership, the university did more than survive; it flourished.

In 1969, as provost, he was faced with a particularly difficult decision. Students had occupied the main administration building and could not be persuaded to leave. Although he was personally opposed to the Vietnam War and was a passionate advocate for free speech, he believed the disruption and potential for violence was a serious threat to the university. So he made the decision to call the police to campus for the first time in the university’s history. But he also worked with the sheriff’s office so faculty observers accompanied police any time they had to clear a building. That policy protected both police and the protesters and kept a volatile situation from escalating further.

The year before, after Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, members of the Black Student Union called for the university to increase minority representation in the faculty and student body. It was a cause Lyman believed in, and he wrote, “We were doing our best to set an institution, for which we cared deeply, on the road to diversity after many decades of injustice and exclusion.” Toward the end of his term in 1979, enrollment of black, Native American and Hispanic students in graduate and professional programs had increased by one-third.

Women also made significant gains. In 1971, there were 54 women faculty members on the Academic Council; five years later, that number had almost doubled. There had been a limit on the number of women enrolled as undergraduate students created when Jane Stanford amended the founding documents; that quota was lifted under President Lyman in 1973. The following year, President Lyman supported the establishment of the Center for Research on Women, now known as the Clayman Institute for Gender Research. This was an interest that Dick and Jing shared deeply.

The university also opened its first coeducational dormitory on campus. As Dick explained to the Stanford Report, students in Stanford’s overseas campus were already sharing a dorm, and, “If we can have a coed dorm in Florence, Italy, why not in Florence Moore?”

“Leadership,” he wrote years later, “requires different qualities at differing times.” As a historian and educator, he understood the necessity of changing with the times. And under his leadership, lasting changes were made at Stanford.

Throughout social upheaval and changes in governance, Dick Lyman never lost sight of the university’s mission or the importance of open dialogue. In an address after having summoned the police, he said:

“Anytime it becomes necessary for a university to summon the police, a defeat has taken place. The victory we seek at Stanford is not like a military victory; it is a victory of reason and the examined life over unreason and the tyranny of coercion.”

His leadership and ability to guide Stanford through this difficult time ensured that the university could focus on academic excellence, and its reputation and prominence increased significantly. When I arrived in 1977, Stanford was focused on its core mission, and the difficult days were behind us. As a young junior faculty member, I did not know what the president was doing or about the tumultuous times that had only recently ended, but I knew that Stanford was a great university and a wonderful place to be teaching and doing research. Dick Lyman had done much to ensure that.

Dick Lyman had an unswerving belief in academic freedom and universities. Although some students, faculty and alumni disagreed with him over the years, none could doubt his commitment to the university. In 1976, when an angry alumnus wrote threatening to disavow Stanford, he replied:

“A great university is a tough, long-lived institution, and Stanford will long survive you and me, our opinions and prejudices, our achievements and our mistakes. I hope you will reconsider … for you and I at least share one thing: We are both of us devoted to Stanford.”

In 1991, Dick and Jing Lyman jointly received the Degrees of Uncommon Man and Uncommon Woman, Stanford’s highest honor for exceptional service to the university, a recognition that has been given to only 25 people in the past 58 years.

Throughout his years of courageous leadership and dedicated service, Dick Lyman exemplified the Stanford spirit. And all of you have benefited from his leadership and his dedication to the mission of a university.

Today, I hope that you leave this campus with a strong reservoir of the Stanford spirit, a reservoir that will grow over the years. And I hope this spirit inspires you to make your own contributions to the world and that it brings you back to this great and much-loved university.

Thank you and congratulations!