Trustees, faculty, staff and students on the Honorary Degrees Committee have chosen entrepreneur, philanthropist and three-term New York mayor Michael R. Bloomberg to deliver the commencement address for the Class of 2014. Bloomberg will be the principal speaker at the College’s 225th Commencement Exercise on June 8. Religious scholar and author Karen Armstrong will be the Baccalaureate speaker the day before. Stanford physics professor and former U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu will participate in a conversation on campus.
Bloomberg, an entrepreneur and philanthropist, served three terms as the mayor of New York City from 2002 to 2013. The mayor, who left office in December, leaves behind a legacy of extensive and often controversial reform. In his three terms, Bloomberg created the strictest anti-smoking law of any big city, reduced crime rates, increased the penalties for illegal gun possession and increased test scores and graduation rates among public schools by raising the salaries of teachers and replacing the state school board with direct mayoral control. He also enacted “PlaNYC” to reduce the city’s carbon footprint and oversaw the aftermath of 9/11 and the subsequent memorials, for which he drew criticism from the families of several victims.
Bloomberg also reduced the city’s $6 billion deficit to $3 billion, although he increased property taxes and spending to do so. Bloomberg resolved a costly transit strike, reduced poverty by making many welfare programs conditional upon the receiver taking action to break the cycle of poverty and instituting the largest affordable housing plan in the nation and
created a 311 hotline for city residents to contact municipal services. He enacted a Stop-and-Frisk practice under which police stop pedestrians and search them for contraband. Bloomberg also tried but failed to bring the 2012 Olympics to New York and build a stadium in Manhattan and banned the sale of sweetened drinks more than 16 ounces in volume.
The Bloomberg Philanthropies Foundation has donated or pledged over one billion dollars of Bloomberg’s personal wealth since 2005. Through donations to the Carnegie Corporation, he donated $5 million to $20 million to arts programs each year. He also pledged money to close coal plants, advance government innovations and fight tobacco use. Bloomberg has donated over $1.118 billion to his alma mater, Johns Hopkins.
Bloomberg enjoyed a successful business career after graduating from Harvard Business School in 1966. From 1973 to 1981, he was a partner at the Wall Street investment bank, Salomon Brothers. He later founded Bloomberg L.P., a financial software, data and media company with over 300,000 information terminals worldwide. Forbes most recently estimated Bloomberg’s wealth at $33 billion.
Armstrong, one of the world’s foremost religious scholars, authored 22 books on religious affairs, including A History of God; The Battle for God; Holy War; Islam: A Short History, The Great Transformation; The Bible: The Biography; The Case for God and Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, as well as two memoirs, Through the Narrow Gate and The Spiral Staircase. Armstrong spent seven years in a convent in the U.K. before becoming an
English teacher and writing about her experiences. Armstrong supports compassionate thinking in moral and political life as a response to religious conflict. She is an ambassador for the U.N. Alliance of Civilizations and a recipient of the Roosevelt Institute’s Freedom of Worship Award, the TED Prize and the British Academy Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize for Transcultural Understanding.