Amid a recent barrage of speculation surrounding his presidential aspirations, former Mayor of New York City Rudolph Giuliani may be used to receiving career advice. But speaking before a sunny Schoellkopf Stadium during Cornell’s 143rd Graduation Weekend Saturday, Giuliani played the advisor and implored Cornell’s Class of 2011 to work toward the public good.
The day after a CNN poll placed him first among potential Republican presidential candidates, Giuliani, who has not declared his candidacy, said that serving as a public official was the happiest time of his life.
“Happiness in life is not just about being what you want to be. Happiness in life is you figuring out how you fit in this big vast society and how you make your contribution,” Giuliani said in his Convocation address to more than 18,000 students, family and friends gathered at the stadium. “I’ve never been more satisfied in my life or happier, in the broadest sense, than when I was in public service because you feel like you are important to other people, and that is an enormously important part of the human psyche.”
Giuliani added that he believes in Greek philosophers’ understanding of happiness, which was defined as “you finding yourself in the polis, you finding your place in the city-state,” he said.
He urged Cornell’s graduating seniors to seek out a life actively engaged in contributing to society.
“Particularly with the education you received, you will not be happy until you succeed, until you find your way to contribute to society,” said Giuliani, who worked in government for 20 years before joining the private sector approximately 10 years ago. “It’s something we’re entitled to from you because of the great advantages you’ve had in having this great education.”
Giuliani evoked his experience in public office throughout his speech to highlight the personal benefits of working for the public.
In extending condolences for the friends and classmates of Brian Lo ’11 — who died in a Collegetown fire on May 6 — Giuliani said the tragedy “reminds me of many days in my life, maybe the most dramatic of those being September 11, 2001.”
Giuliani said Sept. 11 was “the worst day of my life and the greatest day of my life: the worst day because the horrible destruction and the evil,” and the best because he saw “some of the most generous, kind, courageous, selfless actions I’ve ever seen human beings [undertake].”
Lo’s death, Giuliani said, will help his friends and classmates understand that “life is like this. Life offers time of great joys, like a convocation and commencement, and times of profound sadness.”
Throughout his speech, Giuliani highlighted several principles of leadership he hoped would help the audience develop their own leadership abilities.
“The most important principle of leadership is knowing what you believe, knowing who you are and what you want to achieve,” Giuliani said. “If you want to be successful, have goals in your life. Don’t just aimlessly go through life. Know where you’re going.”
Giuliani also emphasized the importance of optimism, teamwork and communication in becoming an effective leader, citing his work as Mayor of New York City from 1994 to 2001.
Giuliani said he rejected the notion that Republicans and Democrats cannot work together.
“There’s a very big debate going on in this country about our social safety net — how big should it be? How intense should it be?” Giuliani said. He explained that he believes Democrats are wrongly accused of trying to make the poor dependent on a safety net, while Republicans are wrongly accused of attempting to eradicate the safety net altogether.
In reality, “everyone agrees there has to be a social safety net … and they should be able to compromise on it and work it out,” he said. “But if you want a real safety net, do not depend on the government. Do you know what your real safety net is? [It is] your friends, your family. And you’ll have that safety net if you’re there for them.”