Baccalaureate speaker Eduardo Bhatia ’86, minority leader and former president of the Senate of Puerto Rico, remarked on the need to fight for honor and integrity in a culture of misinformation.
President Christopher L. Eisgruber ’83 began the ceremony for the Class of 2018 by quoting the first recorded University baccalaureate address in 1760 by Samuel Davies, echoing his words to live and work for the public good.
“We might say today, measure the success by the good that you do,” Eisgruber said.
Eisgruber lauded the senior class by reminding them of the many achievements they had already accomplished while at the University, listing international service projects, roles in student leadership, advocacy, and research in areas ranging from environmental stability to economic development.
Moving on to the future, he emphasized the importance of going into the world and doing good in the world, living up to the University’s motto and serving the nation and humanity.
“All Princetonians take great pride in our shared mission,” Eisgruber said. “I hope [the University's] mission will continue to shape your lives. At the heart of our community is the desire and responsibility to make the world a better place.”
After a number of prayers and songs from different religious traditions, Eisgruber then introduced Bhatia to speak. Bhatia began his speech by telling the story of his encounter with former classmate Jeff Bezos ’86, now CEO of Amazon, remembering thinking he was “crazy” with his idea to use the budding Internet to sell books.
“He’s now the wealthiest man in the world, and I am not,” Bhatia joked. “My first advice to you: always attend Reunions, always have as many beers as you can, but invest early in your classmates’ crazy ideas.”
The heart of Bhatia’s speech focused on public service, specifically the need to fight back against the society of institutional lies and alternative facts, one that he believed runs rampant today and threatens the very foundations of democracy.
“Lack of integrity has real, live consequences,” Bhatia said. “In such an environment, we need to wake up and confront a culture of lies. There is no time to waste. The voices of reason, honor, integrity, and honesty need to be heard.”
Bhatia took a moment in his speech to salute movements like Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, the survivors of the Parkland and Santa Fe shootings, citing them as examples of fighting against the status quo to enact positive change.
He also saluted Eisgruber and Harvard University president Drew Faust for fighting to provide legal status for immigrant students, and he gave one last salute to the many Latino students at universities across the nation and the people of Puerto Rico for being determined survivors.
“All these groups, brave men and women are saying ‘enough is enough’ with this culture of hostility, of confrontation and intimidation, and yes, the culture of lies,” Bhatia said.
Bhatia showed that graduates of the University are uniquely equipped for that task, reflecting on how in 1893 it was a group of students, not administrators, who created the University’s honor code to ameliorate the then-rampant issue of academic dishonesty.
Like those students before them, Bhatia encourages the Class of 2018 to follow their example and be honorable, claiming that democracy is dependent on having and acting upon personal integrity.
“Put all this together, and it feels like 1893 again, but this time around you are the senior class,” said Bhatia. “My hope is that at the baccalaureate ceremony 125 years from now, in the year 2143, they will celebrate the great Class of 2018, whose members had the vision and the courage to take the moral leadership to do what was right for the world.”
The ceremony took place in the University Chapel on June 3 at 2 p.m.