Contact:	Fred Knubel	
		Director of Public Information
		212-854-5573,[email protected]
								FOR USE AFTER 10:30 A.M.
								WEDNESDAY, MAY 21, 1997



Following is the text of the 1997 commencement address at Columbia University by President George Rupp, given at the close of the University's 243rd academic year
Members of the great Class of 1997: Congratulations! Your day has come at last. And here to celebrate with you are those whose support helped make this day attainable. For all your loved ones, the families and friends who have nurtured you, please raise a grateful cheer! There are others here today who have guided you along the path toward truth. You will always remember them: your teachers. Let them know, with your applause, how much you have learned from the Columbia faculty. I turn now to a remarkably diverse group with one thing in common: by virtue of their achievements at Columbia, they are well prepared to be the leaders of the future. They are you, the graduating students at the center of this celebration. On this day you are entitled to give yourselves a well-deserved round of applause. Clearly, we do not teach false humility at Columbia. You have every right to be proud of what you have achieved. We on the faculty and the staff join with you in that pride. We are confident that you are ready to take on the world. You are worthy of all those in whose footsteps you walk. It all began in 1754 with King's College. And so today we reserve a special salute for those who graduate from the core of this institution, Columbia College. And we applaud the graduating seniors who will make history in this world, carrying high the banner of Barnard College. We honor you, of all ages and from all backgrounds, who have earned your diploma from America's finest liberal arts college for adults -- the School of General Studies. We look forward to the future triumphs of the graduates of Columbia's distinguished School of Engineering and Applied Science. We are confident that some of the very best college professors of tomorrow are here today among the dedicated scholars and scientists from our county's oldest Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. We feel better about the future of America as a strong and compassionate society, knowing that it will be served by these graduates of the oldest accredited school in its field, the Columbia School of Social Work. And we have great expectations for a stellar group of young men and women who will work toward the victory of justice over wrongdoing, you who graduate today from Columbia Law School. We are excited to know that the lives of thousands, perhaps millions, of people will be touched by the music and writing, theatre and film, painting and sculpture of the gifted graduates of the Columbia School of the Arts. At Columbia our hope for America is that education will show the way to lives of meaning and purpose; and we assign to the front lines of that struggle the exceptional graduates of the best Teachers College in America. An educated people is a constantly informed people -- informed by the dedicated and fair-minded graduates of our renowned School of Journalism. A healthy people is a well-served people, treated by skilled and caring physicians and surgeons...dentists...nurses and therapists...and alumni of our far-reaching School of Public Health. On this day we look through the dark clouds of war in the world to find new hopes for global understanding -- hopes that are embodied here in you graduates of our School of International and Public Affairs. We will preserve the best of our heritage as we build for tomorrow guided by the superbly prepared graduates of our eminent School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. I have not forgotten you who will prove that corporate and social responsibility can go hand in hand, worthy graduates of our acclaimed Graduate School of Business. All of you, together, strengthen our optimism about the future as you become our newest alumni. In so doing you join a remarkable legion of graduates, including some special new classmates whom we shall honor in a short while. Please give a warm welcome to the honorary members of the Class of 1997. It is wonderful to know that no two of you will be carrying your degree on just the same journey. Look around you, and you will see others quite different from you. As America continues to struggle to build one community from many, and as hundreds of nations experience how hard it is to move from repression to responsibility, we at Columbia should cherish all the more the ways we are able to learn together, to live together, to work together in common purpose. A few weeks ago, we witnessed a highly visible celebration of this capacity to work together in common purpose. It took place in Philadelphia and was called "the Presidents' Summit for America's Future." President Clinton and former presidents Ford, Carter, and Bush were joined by a host of celebrities, foundation and corporation executives, and a remarkable array of print and electronic media, all convened under the leadership of General Colin Powell. It is hard not to be at least a little skeptical of an event that assembles so much star power and thereby generates so much media coverage. But such calls for volunteerism do touch a nerve in our body politic. At some level we all yearn for a sense of direct participation in our communities, a sense that our individual efforts make a difference, a sense that we together can take personal responsibility for our common lives. Here at Columbia this impulse to volunteer is evident across the campus. In every one of our schools and colleges, we support thriving programs that connect our campus to the neighborhoods around us. Students, faculty, and staff contribute time and talents through programs that provide food, clothing, child care, recreation, legal and business advice, medical and dental care or seek to develop housing and jobs or offer tutoring, mentoring, and counseling. Such programs testify eloquently to the bonds that relate us to our neighbors. We rejoice in -- and are grateful for -- the accomplishment of these volunteer efforts and thereby join in the chorus of celebration broadcast from the Presidents' Summit in Philadelphia. And yet. And yet we cannot altogether suppress our skepticism. As there usually is in this remarkable country, there was also a protest demonstration in Philadelphia. One of the protest signs captures the reservations we may feel. It said: "We've volunteered enough to know volunteering is not enough." We are told on all sides that the era of big government is over. We certainly welcome the prospect of liberation from the shackles of impersonal bureaucracies, intrusive regulations, and endless red tape. But as we move away from big government, we must not leave a vacuum far too large for volunteerism alone to fill. A few days after the Philadelphia Summit, a new monument was opened in Washington, celebrating the life and achievements of Franklin Roosevelt. The near coincidence of the Philadelphia gathering and the opening of the F.D.R. memorial invites comparisons that do not reflect well on our current aspirations. Under the leadership of F.D.R., what would become the Works Progress Administration, the WPA, built or improved 8,000 parks, 18,000 playgrounds and 2,000 swimming pools, 124,000 bridges and viaducts, over a million culverts, 651,000 miles of roads, and nearly a thousand airports. The WPA also constructed 40,000 buildings, including 8,000 schools. Much of this city, including LaGuardia Airport, FDR Drive, and hundreds of parks and libraries, was built by the WPA. To this day our city -- and other cities and towns and rural communities across the country -- are the beneficiaries of this massive achievement. And our failure to continue a comparable level of public investment is evident on every side in the decay of our infrastructure, particularly in our cities, and the deterioration of our schools and libraries and other public places. If we celebrate the end of the era of big government, we better have a more compelling response to the need for public investment than a call for volunteers. To marry two slogans -- "the era of big government is over" and "a thousand points of light" -- does not constitute a policy. Instead, all of us as citizens, and certainly our leaders, must take on the tough task of reshaping an appropriate role for the public sector even as government retreats from responsibilities it has assumed over the past two generations. In higher education as in other areas of public life, we must grapple with this shift in the orientation of government. Even for private colleges and universities, partnership with government has been a crucial feature of the impressive achievements of American higher education since World War Two. From the G.I. Bill on, government has played a crucial role in providing access to higher education. Federal funding of basic scientific research has been indispensable in forging American universities into the most powerful engines of ingenuity the world has ever known. The quality of university medical centers has been enhanced enormously by government support in training future doctors, understanding the causes and the ramifications of disease, developing advanced medical interventions, and providing much of the direct health care of many of our poorest citizens. In all three areas -- student aid, scientific research, and health care -- the relationship between the government and universities is in danger of shifting from a confident partnership formed to seize opportunities to a stagnant or even a declining venture preoccupied with shifting costs from one partner to the other. Since 1980 the government's share of financial aid grants awarded to undergraduates has declined sharply: here at Columbia, the fraction has been reduced by more than two thirds, as Federal sources have dropped by about half and the State contribution by over three quarters -- with the result that over 90% of the grant dollars awarded to our undergraduates now come from Columbia resources. Although research funding has not yet declined substantially, various budget scenarios in Washington project Federal investment in research and development will decrease further, by as much as another 20% in inflation-adjusted dollars over the next five years. As for medical centers, funding for graduate medical education, for developing advanced medical diagnoses and treatment, and for the medical care of low income patients are all threatened. In the face of retreat by government, we must do more than refer to the vitality of the private sector or invoke the magic of the market place -- just as we must do more than appeal for volunteers to meet social needs. In the case of student aid, we can continue to transfer the responsibility for assuring access and diversity to private institutions. But then we should not be surprised by upward pressures on tuition charges. Nor will we escape higher costs for public institutions, as state colleges and universities assume more responsibility for providing financial aid. As for research support, we often hear that private industry can be expected to step in as the Federal government withdraws. But corporations geared to quarterly profits will not provide the patient capital required for basic scientific research. A decade ago it might have appeared feasible to cash in on development based on the research infrastructure of another country. Japan was the case in point, with the United States as the country that made investments only to let competitors benefit. Today no one would defend that position as a long term strategy - - which is why Japan is aggressively increasing its investment in research as well as development. Yet even as we continue to benefit from the accumulated research capital of past investments, we contemplate a retreat of the Federal government without assuring alternative sources of support. Finally, in health care, our society has understandably decided to constrain costs that had been spiraling upward. But we must still devise alternative ways of helping to pay for graduate medical education, for stimulating new medical discoveries, and for providing health care to low income people -- rather than simply to mandate cuts and expect medical centers and hospitals to deal with the consequences. In addressing those pressing problems, government will still have to be part of the solution. Today, we gather in this wonderful urban plaza to celebrate you and your achievements. And we are also investing in this place for generations to come: in ways that are not immediately visible -- for example in the complete internal renovation of Butler Library just to the south of us; and in very visible ways -- for example, in Alfred Lerner Hall, the splendid new student center that is taking shape just to our west. Most importantly, we are investing in each one of you as you prepare for leadership in our society and in countries around the world. As you commence from this place, you will, I hope and urge, continue and expand your commitment to volunteer for worthy causes. Do participate wholeheartedly in voluntary associations that engage pressing needs in our society. Be active members of communities that attract your allegiance and support. But I urge you also to commit your formidable talents and energy to reconfiguring our central institutions, including government at all levels. Our individual efforts as volunteers require the counterpart of a revitalized common life. To pursue that double goal - a reinvigorated volunteer movement together with a revitalized common life - is the challenge I extend to you in the confidence that you would not want to move on from here without a future objective worthy of your past and present accomplishments! But all of that is for tomorrow. Today is a day for rejoicing. As I complete my own fourth year here, I am proud to count myself a member of the Class of '97. So I join you in celebrating, I congratulate you again, and I wish you all the best for all of our sake in the years ahead. 5.21.97 19,136
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