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
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
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.