Today, Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) delivered the keynote address at Ramapo College’s 2018 Commencement.
More than 1,400 students had their undergraduate degrees conferred at the ceremony in Newark’s Prudential Center.
Video of the speech can be found HERE.
Above photo courtesy of Ramapo College.
Congressman Gottheimer’s remarks as prepared for delivery are below:
To the 1,434 graduating Roadrunners – you made it! You have officiallywalked through the Ramapo Arch, survived the late nights at Brady’s and Karma, and crossed the finish line. While reaching the men’s basketball Final Four is a pretty impressive feat, your graduation is an even greater achievement. And I know that each of you has worked remarkably hard to achieve this milestone. The emotion brimming in this room is what “Roadrunner Pride” is all about, and it’s why Ramapo has earned academic accolades, becoming the school of choice among all of New Jersey’s institutions of higher learning.
I also want to thank and recognize all of the moms and dads, husbands and wives, grandmas and grandpas, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters and best of friends, who supported you every step of the way. Let’s give them all a round of applause for their support, because this is their day, too. I’m a father of two, Ellie and Ben, and while they’re quite a bit younger, I can only imagine the joy and pride you’re all feeling today. My six-year-old, recently lost his first tooth – and I thought that was the greatest accomplishment ever. I can’t imagine what you’re feeling!
I told my eight-year-old daughter that I was speaking to you today, and she appropriately said, “Daddy, you’re just a freshman congressman, and they’re seniors — what do you know that they don’t?” Yes, already sassy at eight. I’m in trouble.
Ellie’s got a point. I began serving my first term in Congress last year – in fact, my first speech after being sworn-in was actually at Ramapo’s Trustee Pavilion. And in Washington, the newbies, like me, are called freshmen. Like in college, that means my seat in Committee is the furthest from the Chairman, my office is the smallest, and every senior sees me as a little wet behind the ears. So, graduates and future upper classmen, you have a leg up on me.
In your short time at Ramapo, the campus has seen tremendous growth and changed at lightning speed. The Adler Center for Nursing Excellence opened. The College’s G-Wing expanded. The Atrium was renovated. From your curriculum to your professors, Ramapo is on the cutting edge.
As you’d imagine, I spent a lot of time thinking about what I wanted to talk to you about today – on what would be the most meaningful to you. At first, I was dead set on delivering a policy speech, and given that I spent years in the technology sector, in the hotbed of innovation, I thought I’d talk to you about how I believed your lives, careers, and our society would continue to change at lightning speed in the decade ahead.
After all, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, AI, block chain, and virtual reality are all just blooming features in the complex landscape of our brave new world. A few years from now, you may be voting on the device in your hand; you may even put on AR glasses to watch a Devil’s game, instead of coming to the Prudential Center – but make sure you still come; they need to sell tickets. And despite being the eighth largest economy in the country and the fact that New Jersey was Silicon Valley before there was a Silicon Valley – with Thomas Edison and Bell Labs leading the way – I know that many of you here today won’t stay in Jersey after you graduate. Unfortunately, we are losing three millennials for every two that we keep.
So, how do we change this? Well, I’ve got some real thoughts. But that’s the policy speech I’m not going to give today. No speeches on infrastructure or tax cuts this morning.
This is graduation and I know you’ve spent far too many hours in class getting here. So let’s keep this a little lighter. Today, I wanted to share with you a few things – a little advice that I’ve received and treasured over the years. This is certainly not the be all, end all list – and there are plenty of people here with far more wisdom – but here’s my take.
First, and foremost, never forget the people who helped you get here today – and be loyal to them. I’m talking about everyone from your tenth grade English teacher to your basketball coach to your best friend who kept you sane in middle school to your RA who got you through freshman year. Life is a team sport. My seventh grade social studies teacher turned me onto American history. I’ll never forget the person who gave me my first break in politics and my first big job at Ford Motor Company. Yes, I worked hard, but people took a chance on me – and I won’t forget them. My point is, there are a lot of people who deserve to share in your success today. Don’t forget them, even as you continue to shoot ahead. Be there for them, through ups and downs, and never turn your back on them.
Second, as you climb up, don’t be afraid to take calculated risks. Whether that’s going for the next promotion, changing jobs, or speaking out – as long as it’s not against me, of course. I’ve tried to live by what the late Robert F. Kennedy wisely once said, “Only those who dare to fail greatly, can achieve greatly.” Sometimes you need to feel a little uncomfortable, or know that it might not work out — like when I first decided to run for Congress. Back then, no one but a few friends, and my family – except maybe my in-laws — thought I had shot. Kidding about the in-laws.
The key here – and this is a critical one — it’s okay to make smart mistakes. I’ve made plenty of them, and if I’m really pushing myself, I’m sure that I’ll make plenty more. Just ask some of my critics – and I’ve built a good group of those. If you’re taking smart risks, you’re going to mess up occasionally. That’s okay. In fact, although you’ll have some scars, I’d argue that you’ll become wiser from your mistakes. Just try to do your best not to make the same mistakes twice.
Third, life is like running an ultra-marathon. You need to pace yourself — but never stop climbing up the mountain. In other words, don’t rest on your laurels. Today is just the beginning of your education, not the end. Don’t stop learning new subjects or new skills. You’ll likely switch jobs at least fifteen times over your career, and you’ll probably end up in a field that doesn’t even exist today. That can be frightening – or exciting. For example, I spent my last year at Microsoft working on the cloud. Aside from rain, no one even knew what the cloud was when I graduated from college.
But one thing to remember as you climb up, and this is something my dad reminded me when I graduated from college. “You just landed on second base today. You’re not rounding home.” In other words, you’re in a great position, you’ve got a leg up on others. But don’t expect everything to come to you – and nothing is due you. You need to keep chasing it and impressing others. You won’t reach the next milestone overnight; you haven’t earned it just yet. But if you work hard, and show you’re eager to learn and give that extra hour, I promise that someone will recognize it and you’ll continue to go places.
Fourth, fight for what you believe is right. There’s no guidebook or instruction manual on getting involved. Whether or not you agree with their position, I think we were all moved by the passion of the students who spoke out after Parkland. Like them, don’t be afraid to use your energy, wisdom, and passion to stand up for what you believe in, regardless of where you stand on the issue. That’s a gift we have that others around the world don’t. And there’s no age minimum for making a difference. Thomas Jefferson was only thirty-two when he declared that all men are created equal. We are all not going to be Thomas Jefferson, but, on a smaller scale, I know that so many of you are already doing incredible things in your communities. So, get involved and stay involved, in any way that you believe is right. That’s what has made our Jersey communities strong and what built our great country.
Next, and this one has really gotten away from us. But, no matter where someone stands, always follow the golden rule – respect where other people are coming from, and treat them the way you’d want to be treated. I know, we learned that one in first grade, but, in this day and age of cable news, Twitter, Snapchat, and Facebook, we seem to have forgotten that what we say, even if it’s hiding behind a post or a Tweet, can have a real impact on others. So, this is my plug for civility.
For too long now, and it’s not just in recent years, forces of extremism have been dismantling our society. Too many of us have lost the ability to see the humanity in someone who doesn’t identify as our “tribe” – whether that’s political, religious, regional, or otherwise. Social media continues to break down our networks into smaller and smaller slices to the point where we only speak to like-minded friends – and read the news and commentary they share. I’m not saying that the Devils fans here need to root for the Rangers, but I know that what makes New Jersey great is that a Yankee fan and a Mets fan can go to a game together, scream and cheer for a couple of hours, and still walk away friends.
I can assure you that it is much more rewarding – and productive — to engage and actually listen to the person who’s sitting across from you. Believe it or not, that’s something that I’ve learned in Washington. I Co-Chair a bipartisan group – of 24 Democrats and 24 Republicans – the Problem Solvers Caucus. We sit down nearly every week and talk to and listen to one another, and work toward finding that 80 percent common sense solutions, where we can agree on some of the toughest issues, from immigration to health care, instead of insisting on getting 100 percent of what we want.
I urge each of you to open up your mind, lift your head from your phones, hold back on that post, and talk to your neighbor. You’ll be amazed at what you can learn and accomplish. What makes our country great is that we’re all from different places and backgrounds with different views – and that, if we engage, our differences will continue to be our greatest strength.
Finally, to that point of taking a breath first, and this is one I’m still struggling with, but getting better at – don’t forget to smell the flowers along the way. As I mentioned, life is a marathon, not a sprint – and if you don’t take the time to appreciate it, you’ll miss it. Especially in this day and age, when you can literally never shut off. There is always another email, another task to get done, another meeting. It’s easy to get caught up in the next thing, instead of enjoying what you’ve achieved. But what’s the point of the success, if you can’t take the time to appreciate it with the people you love.
As I look back, that family dinner I skipped to make my boss happy, well, he would have understood if I hadn’t. And, frankly, and you’ll hear this a lot, but when your time is up, you’ll want to be surrounded by your family, not the boss you had when you were twenty-three.
I’m living this as we speak. My mom is very sick, but I know that if I don’t spend time with her now, I’ll never get it back. And I don’t regret a single hour that I’ve paused, to enjoy an extra moment with her – and to celebrate how wonderful she is or how good of a job she did raising me and my sister. And I wouldn’t trade coaching my kid’s t-ball game for the world – or give up the moment of watching him hit the ball into the outfield.
Today is one of those moments. I know you’re focused on your next job, or degree, or that party tonight, but what you’ve accomplished today is the culmination of decades of hard work. It is truly remarkable, and you are blessed. And I know your family feels the same way. So, hug your friends and family, go celebrate, and please let me know if there is anything I can ever do to help you on your next step upward and onward!
With you in charge, in the greatest country in the world, I know that our best days will always be ahead of us.
Thank you, God bless you, and may God continue to bless our great state and the United States of America.