A Look Back at Rahm Emanuel’s Commencement Speech Wisdom

The mayor has not given many speeches this year, but he has made the rounds at colleges and universities around the country in years past

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Big-name public figures are in high demand this time of year for graduation, but one of Chicago's own figures is mostly absent from the commencement speech rounds this year.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has thus far only delivered one commencement speech in 2015 -- at Lincoln Park High School on Sunday. But the mayor has given his share of memorable speeches in the past, many of them when he was still in the White House. 

Over the years, Emanuel has shared wisdom with the students of Sarah Lawrence College (his alma mater), George Washington University, National Louis University and the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Service, where he did a pretty spot-on impression of Bill Clinton

In honor of graduation season, here's a look back at some of the pearls of wisdom Emanuel bestowed upon students across the country over the years:

  • On the value of a liberal arts education... “I spent some time studying child psychology when I was at Sarah Lawrence. The truth is when I came here -- besides dance -- I decided I wanted to go into child psychology. I had no idea how useful that would be when I became a member of Congress.”
  • On gratitude to your parents... "Text messages do not suffice." 
  • On finding the meaning of life... "I want to start with a lesson that I learned the hard way. When I was in high school I was a pretty reckless guy. Let’s just say I wasn’t the staid and somber figure that stands before you now ... I was working as a meat cutter and sliced my finger deeply and ... being 17, went swimming in Lake Michigan, ended up with five blood infections, two bone infections, gangrene and a 105 fever, and in a hospital for two months. But to be honest, I’m glad I went through it, because a funny thing happened along the way back from the precipice: Nearly losing my life made me want to live my life."
  • On learning from failure... "1992 was a good year ... I joined Bill Clinton’s long-shot presidential race as finance director ... I was on top of the world, and in a pretty good job for someone just several years out of college. But the truth is, it may have gone to my head a little bit, and I think you can strike the word 'may.' I probably shot off my mouth a few too many times and I problem picked up a few too many fights, and before I knew it my dream job was hanging by a threat. I was demoted. It felt terrible, and here I was, thinking that I had messed up the biggest opportunity of my life. But I didn’t give up. I didn’t quit. I dug in and I dug deep. I refused to leave. But I did try to act with a little less bravado and a lot more humility."
  • On finding a deeper meaning in your work... "Then the President-elect called with what he felt was a pretty good idea. My kids are too young to understand why I’m uprooting their lives to answer that call, but I tried to explain to them: Sometimes you have to give up something you cherish to be part of achieving something even bigger."
  • On starting your first job... "I remember when I graduated. I drove home, did two loads of laundry and then I went out and got a job for a non-profit political organization in the heart of Chicago. It wasn’t glamorous work. I had no idea where it would lead. But I left this place eager and excited to make my mark."
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