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Remarks at ServiceNation Presidential Candidates Forum

Remarks at ServiceNation Presidential Candidates Forum

September 11, 2008

Thank you very much and welcome to Columbia University and this remarkable ServiceNation Summit. I especially want to thank the co-chairs of this event - beginning with Columbia Law School alumna Caroline Kennedy. I also want to thank her co-chairs, Alma Powell of America's Promise Alliance, Richard Stengel of Time magazine, Vartan Gregorian of the Carnegie Corporation, Bill Novelli of AARP, and Laysha Ward of Target.

We are honored that ServiceNation chose Columbia University in the City of New York for its historic nonpartisan forum. And we are delighted to welcome back to this campus both Senator John McCain and Senator Barack Obama.

Like so many institutions in this City, Columbia suffered a grievous loss on 9/11 of alumni, family, and friends. Like everyone, this is a loss that we feel every day but we struggle to remember and honor in the right way. This event, therefore, is especially welcome because it helps us find our way - to use this day of remembrance and reflection as a means of enlightenment, to learn once again the truth that the simple act of caring for others contains within it all the satisfactions that one can hope for in life. Let me extend, then, a special welcome to the 9/11 families who have been so much a part of this endeavor.

I want you to know, as well, that there are right now thousands of Columbia students gathered outside this building who have responded to the call of this summit by making this a day focused on engaged citizenship and service. I am proud of them all - and you should be, too.

Public service is the essence of our universities, and it most certainly is of Columbia. Every time a scientist enters the lab, or the scholar writes another page, or the professor mounts the podium, the cause of the public good is foremost in mind. As one former president of Columbia said, what provides the "ethical" grounding of the search for knowledge and understanding in universities is not detachment from human needs but service to them. Adam Smith was brilliantly right that you can build an economy on the self-interest of every member, but it's clear you can not build a relationship or a society on that premise alone.

This idea is woven into the very fabric of this University, right down to its entry-level courses. Columbia's unique undergraduate Core Curriculum was originally created during and after World War I with the idea that a general education must not only help students develop their capacities for critical thinking but also nurture in them the responsibilities of citizenship in a democratic society. On this very site of this building we're now in, there once stood a building that was conceived specifically as Columbia's "Citizenship House."

Today, all of Columbia should be called "Citizenship House." Students across all our schools, colleges, and affiliates participate in hundreds of service learning, volunteer action, and social entrepreneurship programs here in New York and all over the globe.

Here are only a few rooms in the house: For more than forty years, Double Discovery Center has been bringing first-generation, college-bound public school students from our community onto our campus to work with students and faculty in after-school and summer enrichment programs. Our School of Engineering requires students to work with public schools and community-based organizations to improve the use of technology in math and science education, and Columbia Community Impact sends nearly a thousand student volunteers to serve in New York neighborhoods every year.

Scholarship and teaching, then, are the core of what universities do, and these are supplemented by the acts of hundreds, thousands of members of our extended community, who seek to tame disease, bring help to every region of the world, and meld art with meaning - as have two recent Columbia graduates who designed the new 9/11 Memorial that was dedicated today at the Pentagon.

It is now my honor to introduce one of the members of our community to you - Governor David Paterson, Columbia College Class of 1977. Governor Paterson is a recipient of our distinguished John Jay Award for professional achievement for his decades of public service as New York's Lieutenant Governor and as a State Senator representing Upper Manhattan. He is also known to many students at Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs as "Professor Paterson," for his six years as an adjunct faculty member. He has taken on the leadership of our state with his characteristic decency and determination, his intelligence, and extraordinary good humor.

Governor David Paterson personifies the commitment to public service that so many in the Columbia community have shared over the decades. As I welcome all of you again, I am proud to introduce to you the governor of the State of New York, David Paterson.