On March 29, 2018, Vincent Boudreau was installed as the 13th president of the City College of New York. President Boudreau’s remarks at his Investiture, which are published below, are a powerful testament to his vision that the goal of City College must “rededicate ourselves to social mobility.”
Prior to serving as the Interim President from November 2016 to December 2017, Dr. Boudreau was the founding Dean of the Colin Powell School of Civic and Global Leadership working closely with General Colin Powell who serves as the Chair of the Board of Visitors of the School.
City College has been ranked second in the nation by the Chronicle of Higher Education, following its sister CUNY campus Baruch College, among the top ten colleges in the US that help propel students up the economic ladder. As Congressman Adriano Espaillat put it so succinctly, “City College is a Factory of Dreams and Vince Boudreau is its Shop Steward.”
We encourage you to read President Boudreau’s remark’s below:
I am so grateful to be here as your president, so cognizant of the responsibility with which I am today vested, so committed to the prosperity of this institution and the stewardship of its founding mission.
When this building was founded in 1907, Mark Twain stood where I’m standing right now, and told his audience that he thought that America needed a degree in citizenship, and that the most appropriate place for that degree to be offered, was at what he called the college of the city of New York, where people even then gathered from so many different lands to become Americans. And when Albert Einstein first came to America—when he first shared his theory of relativity with a public audience on this side of the Atlantic–he stood in this room, and spoke to us. When Colin Powell returned to his alma mater as the first African American Secretary of State in our nation’s history, he stood where I am standing today, and delivered his address.
I think a great deal about this room in connection to the work I have agreed to undertake here. The Great Hall is the sacred center of City College, our great hall to be—and they frequently tell me what they think it used to be: a convent, since we’re on convent avenue, or a church, or some other grand building built for someone The people who founded City College, those that later built this great room, dreamed that it would be filled, as it is filled now, with people who look like the world looks. They built it for people who are new to our country, for people who, in other ways, may have come into life with no expectation for their future except what they can make of themselves. And like the students of today, for generations upon generations, they have come to the College of the City of New York to remake their future, change the history of their families, and prepare themselves to help build this city, and this nation.
Those who designed this building inscribed our shared mission into the very architecture that surrounds us. They imagined a college with its arms flung wide, gathering everyone in an embrace, strengthening our society with every soul that walked across our graduation stage. And they approached their task with reverence and with optimism, and a palpable sense that by building City College they were renewing the spirit of America.
And so, if the Great hall is the sacred center of City College, then City College is the sacred center of New York City.
So, where do we now stand in the light of our founding vision? We stand, first, at a moment when we can clearly see the misshapen fruits of a societal retreat from the ideals of public higher education as a collective good that is utterly vital to the fabric of our democracy. Where once we accepted that the whole people would benefit when the whole people were educated—where once we were unambiguous in our willingness to define an educated population as a societal strength and a public good, we are now too often asked to see public education as an discrete benefit for individuals who have acquired, or will acquire, their degree in a place like CCNY.
But when society refuses to see how everyone benefits when everyone has a path to education, it begins to ask why this student, or that, deserves particular support—why any one of us should agree to allocate resources to support some unnamed other. But when a nation begins to ask such questions, particularly of our public and shared goods, we enter a dark season. We become smaller, and more isolated, and weaker as a people.
No democracy has long survived without a robust mechanism for educating the whole people. When educational opportunities grow more restricted, or educational institutions weaken a hollow space opens up in the fabric of our public lives. And out of that void come all manner of ugly things: intolerance, superstition, closed mindedness. The void exudes a climate for violence. It encourages disaffection, and societal rifts and governments that lean toward repression.
We have, as a nation, moved in fits and starts away from repression, moved toward a greater understanding of one another—not always or in every place, or for everyone, but at least in ways that bend, as they say, towards justice. But the road has never been untroubled, and we are today working through a tough patch, marked in places by what seems a willful embrace of what is meanest and least generous in our nature.
I say this now, in connection with our City College, because it puts us, every one of us, on the front lines of a struggle for the future and the soul of our nation. What we do every day, at City College and at places like City College, is this: we set ourselves against the proposition that the American dream is small, or restricted, or ungenerous. We defy the idea that where you come from, or how you got here, or where you pray, or what you look like, or who you love, has any bearing on your place in our society. We reject the idea that the circumstances of your birth define the pathways of your life. We work in the understanding that we do not now live in the world we were meant to inhabit—we build it, every day, and defend what we build when we must. And on this campus, I promise you, we will make that defense.
And here, of all places, in this Great Hall, we are reminded that we must undertake this work generation by generation, in who we teach and what we pass on, in the breadth of the opportunities we make possible, and the encouragement we give to those who seek a better future. These are our values and our mission, and in their pursuit we have, each one of us, the opportunity to be exceptional, the chance to be beautiful—to make this college the institution it should be.
Here, then, is my vision for City College. We are, as many of you know, virtually unrivaled in promoting social mobility in our student body—the second most successful college in the country, next to Baruch, in doing so, and part of a University System that’s leading the country in this regard.
We must rededicate ourselves to social mobility and in that rededication, broaden our conception of what it means on this campus. We live in a time when social mobility, the great engine that drove our public life through the middle years of the last century, has become, in the words of Joseph Stiglitz, a statistical anomaly, and we cannot tolerate such a state of affairs.
We are an institution filled with writers and researchers: professors who, in their different departments, in their differed fields of endeavor, are identifying and attacking the barriers to social mobility. In my years on this campus I have come to know you well, and this is what I’ve learned. You are not working in Harlem merely because your campus happens to be here. You have been drawn, with your particular commitments to justice and equity, to this special spot, to undertake very specific kinds of work. And it is that work, and this place, that keep you close. I say to you now, even if you’re hearing it for the first time: together, we are an institution dedicated to an all-out assault on the barriers to social mobility, and it’s time we started to say that.
The staff of this college, so often the first to see trouble in a student’s eyes, or the first to prepare the campus in the dark hours before the rest of us arrive, the planners, and the implementers of our fondest aspirations—you are vital to this mission. We must vow here to make a place that prepares our students that demonstrates what we think their role in our nation should be, that sets a standard for the world outside our walls, showing in no uncertain terms, the necessity and beauty of delivering on our charge.
My good colleagues—this is what we stand for. This is how we must be known, and in claiming this identity, let us shake off the vestiges of recent difficulties, and be renewed.
To my friends outside the campus: we must stand together. I have had the rare opportunity, these past months, to meet and speak with civic and political leaders in Harlem, in Northern Manhattan and in the South Bronx and all across New York City, and many of those people are here today. I say this to you. If we are the campus that I describe, if we are a public institution not just in the source of our funding but in the content of our mission, if the issues most vital in the underserved and vulnerable populations in our city—populations that you represent and advocate for– can cluster, as I think they do, around questions of social mobility, around those things that undercut the capacity of any individual, no matter who they are or how they were born, to make a life for themselves, then we are a united people. I ask you to stand with this campus, and promise that we will stand with you. Where we have seemed closed we will be open, where we have seemed to speak to ourselves, we will speak, with you, to the world. Together, we can do remarkable things, and I am so very optimistic for our future. Let us stand together.
To the sons and daughters of City College gathered here—those who walked this path when they were young, and have turned back to their college, and to others of you who have seen reason to invest your time or attention, or treasure in our institution, I say this: I need you. I need your support, your enthusiasm, your commitment, and your advocacy. This mission of ours, the tasks that I have laid out for this college and for my presidency: it’s the right mission for these times, the right mission for our history, and for our geography and for our place in the pantheon of the great institutions in the greatest city in the world. Join me. Help me advocate for this institution—fight for it, and fight for all that it represents.
And finally, to my students: I wish for you to understand something important. We meet you, and work with you individually, and help you figure out your individual lives and futures. And we can’t let the unique promise that you each represent fall by the wayside. But I also think of you as a class, leaving this campus each spring in waves, provisioned with the knowledge of this institution, but also destined to make your mark on the world as a group. We have always been a place that sends new Americans into the world—or Americans new to their potential to fully embrace their role in America. Last week, I met the great great, great granddaughter of William Hallett Greene, the first African American to graduate from CCNY. Class of 1884. Today, we more often send young people into the world for whom education is the glue binding them to a new country, and we hope a newly secure place in that country. And in establishing that position, they are also making a place for others—you, are making a place for others. And so social mobility is your mission, too: not just as it will be reflected in your life, but in what you will stand for, and I hope, how you will advocate for a better place in this world for future generations.
And never forget that this place, this great hall, this storied campus, was made in the first instance, and remade each year, for you: specifically and exactly.
I am proud to serve as the 13th president of this college, and accept this charge with a glad heart and a great bounty of optimism.
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