New York Gov. George Pataki ’67 said he had no problem keeping his role as Class Day speaker from going to his head: he had read plenty of “deflating” comments criticizing his selection.
After starting his speech with well-received self-deprecating humor, Pataki launched into a speech about patriotism post-Sept. 11 and urged graduates not to accept “intolerant prepackaged views.”
About 10,000 people turned out for Class Day, held on Old Campus each year on the day before Commencement, which featured Pataki’s speech and the presentation of major awards for teaching, athletic achievement, and undergraduate scholarship.
In Pataki’s keynote, he said the important lesson of Sept. 11 was the outpouring of help from New Yorkers “whose equal I have never seen,” calling it “undiluted unselfish love.”
“Remember what happened to us on Sept. 11th and remember how New Yorkers responded,” Pataki said.
But the two-term governor, running for re-election this year, also questioned the sudden show of unity.
“But why did it take the worst act of terrorism to unite our country?” he said.
Pataki acknowledged the importance of the university in shaping young minds, citing the difficulty he faced at Yale and decrying what he called “intolerance on the part of academics.”
“Why too often do classrooms harbor intellectuals whose minds are closed to other views?” Pataki said. “Sociology has become ideology.”
Pataki closed his speech by saying he had no doubt that each graduate would continue to achieve great things and that he hoped such accomplishments would be achieved on a “bedrock of respect and tolerance of others.”
He implored the class to remember the lessons of Sept. 11.
Pataki gradually ascended the Republican Party ladder after graduating from Yale and Columbia Law School, serving as mayor of his hometown of Peekskill, N.Y. and a state congressman before defeating Mario Cuomo in a 1994 gubernatorial upset. Many at Yale had complained initially about the senior class’s choice of Pataki as a Class Day speaker, claiming he would turn the speech into a political event.
But Sharon Hardy, the mother of Pierson senior Elizabeth Hardy ’02, praised Pataki’s deference and sense of humor.
“I loved it,” she said. “I thought it was very classy that he quoted from the [newspaper column criticizing him].”
S.K. Lo, the parent of Stanley Lo ’02, said he was very impressed with Pataki.
“He’s very lively,” Lo said. Comparing Pataki’s speech with an earlier speech made by Jane Levin, Lo said, “He’s not as pacifist overall. ‘Even his pundits found Pataki engaging.'”
“I thought his speech was illogical and innocuous, but endearing,” Marc Rubin ’02 said.
Andi Young ’02 said she didn’t find Pataki political and that he addressed the “concerns of a generation, not a party.”
“I don’t feel that he had a political agenda,” she said.