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In Class Day speech, Booker instructs 2018 graduates on the importance of service

New Jersey Senator Cory Booker encouraged the graduates of the Class of 2018 to use their powers of love, kindness, and advocacy for the good of the world during his Class Day Speech today.

“I want to impart to you that you are powerful,” Booker said. “Life’s not about the degrees that you get; it’s about the service that you give.”


Booker’s speech centered on redefining power. He claimed it came less from positions or titles and more from perseverance, moral consistency, and constant kindness. Booker took examples from both civil rights history and his own life as proof that small decisions have far-reaching impacts.

“I want you to perhaps do like I do which is to reject the ‘Great Man’ theory of history which writes about powerful people in powerful positions with powerful titles who move our nation forward and actually remember that this nation was shaped and formed most by the people you’re never going to read about in history books,” Booker said.

For much of his speech, Booker spoke about his parents’ struggle against discrimination in the housing market as well as the lawyers and advocates that helped his family find a home — the home where Booker would eventually grow up and be cared for.

Booker also spoke about the mentorship he received from Congressman John Lewis, whose humility and advocacy Booker claimed redefined what power really is for him.

“It’s not about his title, it’s not about his position, it’s about the truth that he lives everyday,” Booker said. “He evidences to me the truth that you should always remember that someone who is nice to you but is rude to the waiter is not a nice person.”

Other lessons Booker learned from Lewis, his parents, and those he watched fight for equality and justice before him include the importance of love and caring for everyone and that apathy and indifference are the true opposites of justice.


“[Lewis] teaches that patriotism is love of country and he teaches that you cannot love your country if you do not love your countrymen and women,” Booker said. “He teaches that you cannot lead the people if you do not love the people.”

The ceremony began with President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 giving a humorous introduction to the event, talking about his experiences biking across campus in order to meet students and be more “approachable.” 

Class day, a historical tradition planned and presented by members of the senior class, dates back to 1856. It includes speeches from officers of the class government, class bards, awards, and a keynote speaker.   

“I found that cycling around campus was a great way to run into the Class of 2018, and I mean that literally,” said Eisgruber. “It was a great way to run into you because some of you never look up from your phones.” He emphasized his point by showing video footage of students walking around campus absorbed by their phones.

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He then awarded the Class of 2018 the Keys to the University along with orange and black helmets, joking they would keep them safe from distracted students.

Soon afterward, class president Brandon McGhee ’18 made his own remarks, encouraging his fellow classmates to be ready for a lifetime of greatness, summing it up in the mantra that, “Princeton is forever.”

“Princeton has equipped us with the critical knowledge and resources to change the world, and it is our responsibility to better our local and global communities,” McGhee said. “Our failures and challenges and successes at Princeton have prepared us to navigate the world beyond the FitzRandolph Gates.”

McGhee told his classmates that the most important lesson he took away from his time at the University was the importance of working together instead of being caught up in oneself, before promptly singing a sizable portion of Bill Withers’ “Lean On Me.”

The class heralds also helped entertain the soon-to-be graduates over the course of the ceremony. Andrew Hartnett ’18 reflected on his memories of his time on campus, using the metaphor of how the campus is seemingly always under construction to illustrate how he and his classmates had grown.

“I think we can all agree that no sound has more marked our time in this grassy New Jersey oasis than the omnipresent clattering of construction equipment,” Hartnett said. “But in these last four years, Princeton’s greatest construction project wasn’t a great new building or traffic lights that talk to you; it was us.”

Later in the ceremony Catherine Sharp ’18 encouraged students to take risks outside of the University just as she had been encouraged to do during her time on campus.

“[Princeton] taught us perseverance, to keep pushing forward even when the world is falling down around us, either metaphorically or literally with trees,” Sharp said.

Class Day also recognized a number of senior class members receive for various awards. María Perales Sánchez ’18 received the Allen Macy Dulles ’51 Award for best exemplifying the University’s motto for serving the nation and humanity. Nicholas Wu ’18 received the Frederick Douglass service award for courage and leadership in contributing to a deeper understanding of the experiences of racial minorities, and Nicholas Fernández ’18 and Carolyn Liziewski ’18 received the Harold Willis Dodds Achievement Prize for clear thinking, moral courage, and considering the perspectives of others.

Wu is a head opinion editor emeritus for The Daily Princetonian.

Two additional awards were voted on by the senior class. The W. Sanderson Detwiler 1903 Prize was awarded to McGhee for doing the most for his class, and the Walter E. Hope Class of 1901 Medal was given to Myesha Jemison ’18 for doing the most for the University as a whole.

Within the athletic awards, Delaney Miller ’18 received the Class of 1916 Cup for having the highest academic standing of a senior varsity letter winner. Charles Kanoff ’18 received the William Winston Roper Trophy for being the top male sportsman overall, and Vanessa Gregoire ’18 received the C. Otto von Kienbusch Award for being the overall top senior sportswoman. Abby Finkelston ’18, Ehidiamen “Junior” Oboh ’18, and Natalie Tung ’18 received the Arthur Lane ’34 Citizen Athlete Award for selfless contribution to sport and society by an undergraduate athlete.

The ceremony also recognized the honorary members of the Class of 2018, who were: Barbara Baldwin, who works for the TigerTransit campus shuttle; Eddie Glaude, the William S. Tod Professor of Religion and African American Studies and chair of the Department of African American Studies; Carol Klein of the student publication Business Today; Mollie Marcoux Samaan ’91 and the Ford Family Director of Athletics; Tom Sparich, former conductor of the NJ Transit “Dinky” train in Princeton; and Uwe Reinhardt, the former James Madison Professor of Political Economy, honored in memory following his death in November 2017; and finally Booker, honored for his own work as Senator and as Class Day Speaker.

Ultimately, the graduates were left with Booker’s words and encouragement to go out into the world and act in small, consistent, and kind ways every day, and that is what will truly change the world.

“Walk into every room, go to every place, and embrace the world with your spirit and your truth,” Booker said. “If you do that, if you live that way, if you strut like you are powerful then I promise you that generations yet unborn will know of your light and your love.”

The ceremony took place June 4, 2018, at 10:30 a.m. on Cannon Green.