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Keynote Address

Steve Israel, United States Congressman, New York’s 3rd District

Commencement Address - May 10, 2013
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The following includes excerpts from Congressman Israel's speech:

I want to congratulate our valedictorian Asya Ashour and salutatorian Minqi Li, both are accounting majors, and I have to tell you, I have two openings on my staff, we need some accounting majors in the United States Congress.

I’m going to be very brief. The sweetest sound in the world is a politician who has to give a commencement address who is suffering from laryngitis. It’s not that I want to be brief, it’s that I got to be brief. I learned a lesson very early on in my career. When I was elected to congress in 2000, I made a decision that I was going to visit a school as often as I could. Because everything that I need to know and understand about the Federal Education policy I do not by listening to some deputy secretary of education. I do not learn by reading legislative memos from my staff, I learn about schools by visiting schools. I went to my first schools, the Norwood Avenue Elementary school in Northport, Suffolk County. They asked me to speak to the fourth grade in their auditorium. I thought I gave a pretty good speech until two weeks later a manila folder stuffed with thank you notes from those fourth graders arrived. Fourth graders are some of the most honest human beings on the faith of the earth. There was one note that I loved so much that I saved and framed and it hangs in my office in Washington and I thing about it before I make a speech. This is what it said in fourth grade penmanship that most of you will remember, no embellishment or exaggeration:

Dear Mr. Israel,

Thank you for coming to our school, thank you for coming to Norwood Avenue, thank you for coming to my class, thank you for talking about your job, thank you for teaching us about Washington, thank you for telling us about the House thank you for telling us about the Senate, thank you the White House, thank you for inviting us to the White House, my mother said I can’t go, thank you for talking about the environment of the Long Island Sound, thank you for a very much you were very interesting and I hope you come back to visit us one day soon. Sincerely yours, pal Jeffrey. P.S. You spoke so long you made us miss recess.

Today is about your future. Today is about the future of those fourth graders. Today is about the future of America. And so the first point I want to make is to share a really important report I just read that describes what kind of world you are going to wake up in in the year 2030. Every four years since 1996 our smartest intelligence experts in the country, the CIA the DIA the smartest people we have are required to give a report to the Department of Defense and to the United States Congress that tell us exactly what the world is going to look like in the year 2030. It’s called Alternative Worlds 2030. It paints a picture of what it’s going to be like for you the graduates of this University, the class of 2013.

There are some points I would like to share with you.

  1. Between now and the year 2030 we are going to add 1.2 billion people to the population of the world. We are on the verge of seeing the biggest expansion of the middle class in the history of human kind. But not too good for us, that expansion is going to happen in Brazil, Russia, India in China and South Africa. If we don’t make the right investments and right choices America’s middle class is going to shrink. As the middle class expands around the world, we shrink.
  2. We are about to embark on the biggest growth of elderly people in the history of the world. We are getting older faster and that’s going to be most of the population. Now the good news is, that the reason that the population of the world will age is because medical technologies are keeping us alive longer. The not so good news is that’s going to put huge strains on retirement securities and Social Security and Medicare.
  3. We are moving back into cities again. This morning 50% of the world woke up in cities and in 17 years 60% will wake up in cities and that is going to put huge strains on workforce, housing and affordable housing planning.
  4. Completely disruptive technologies. The cool things we use now will be primitive. 3D printing, robotics and their manufactures, the stuff that you guys will be dealing with in the year 2030 and your kids will be dealing with in 2030 we haven’t even started to imagine right now.
  5. There is going to be a huge demand of scarce resources. There will be a 35% increase in demand for food around the world, 40% increased demand for water, 50% increase in the demand for energy.

The report shows we at one of this historic pits. What do I mean? Only four times in the history of human kind has the decisions and the choices that one generation was ask to make had more of a massive impact on the very next generation. We are at that moment where what we decide will help to define the world for those fourth graders and you. This only happened four times in history, 1815, 1919, 1947, 1989 and now. If we make the right investments and choose the right priorities if we expand the middle class and invest in education, if we support science, the world will be a magnificent and beautiful and prosperous and safe place for you and your children in 17 years. I am so optimistic that the world is going to be okay for you and my two daughters.

I want to close with you a history that we all know that proves that the next generation can be better. We are Long Islanders, most of us. This is the Long Island University. I want you to think of what Long Island looked like before World War II. We were potato fields and pumpkin farms, that’s what Long Island was and then we faced these massive challenges, Nazism and Fascism and we saw the Long Islands take us to become the defense capital of the world. And so we turned potato fields and pumpkin patches into defense companies. We researched, we developed, we engineered and manufactured. We went to the other end of the world and back and looked up to the moon and said we can go there too. We can do anything. NASA did not land a man on the moon, Long Islanders landed a man on the moon.

If you make the right choices, if you choose the right priorities, if you test the energies and the skills that have been invested in you here at Long Island University, I promise you that 2030 will be such a wonderful place that biggest problem for a group of fourth graders will be a congressmen who talks too long.

Thank you all.