By Stan Friedman
CHICAGO, IL (May 17, 2011) — In his final act as Chicago’s mayor, Richard M. Daley was the speaker at North Park University’s undergraduate commencement exercises on Saturday.
The city’s longest-tenured mayor exhorted the university’s largest-ever undergraduate class to be public servants regardless of the careers they have chosen. Daley ended his 22-year run as the city’s chief executive yesterday at the inauguration of the incoming mayor, Rahm Emanuel.
North Park chose Daley to be the first recipient of the David Nyvall Medallion for Distinguished Service to the People of Chicago. “We are excited to have him join us for our commencement to receive this honor and celebrate his legacy to the city of Chicago,” President David Parkyn told the 312 graduating students and hundreds of guests.
Parkyn said it was fitting that Daley be the first to receive the medallion named in honor of the University’s first president. Nyvall guided the school with the idea that “learning is most noble when it is used to benefit others.”
Prior to the presentation, Provost Joseph Jones told the audience that the mayor’s leadership “has proven that in this place racial chasms can be diminished and often overcome; economic and social injustices can be addressed; affordable housing for the poor and marginalized can be improved; public spaces can be made beautiful and open to all; violence against neighbor can and must be tamed; business and economic development can be achieved; neighborhoods can be made vibrant and livable; cities can be green; the arts can flourish; and immigrants can be welcomed as they make this city their adopted home.”
The day also featured the 50-year reunion of the Class of 1961, who were attending the school when Daley’s father, Richard J. Daley, was the city’s mayor. President Parkyn also noted it was the year the country’s new leader, John F. Kennedy, exhorted America in his inaugural address to “ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”
The sixty-nine-year-old Daley emphasized opportunities that lie ahead for North Park students to serve. He passed on the words his father repeated often to his children: “Whatever you do in life, you must give back to society.”
Daley made brief reference to the accomplishments of his administration over more than two decades, including the creation of parks and other public spaces that enhance life for all city residents.
Daley was most passionate, however, when speaking about education, saying it was the only way the economic gap between upper and lower classes can be closed. “We need every part of America to adopt education as a crusade,” he said.
The mayor recalled how the state General Assembly had passed a law giving him control over the city’s failing school district. He had pushed for the law even though his closest aides warned it would be “political suicide.” Daley said had he not taken control of the failing schools, “I would have failed as a public servant, failed as a servant of God, and failed my father.” Much work remains, but the schools have been “put on the right track,” he added.
Daley said the United States should make as strong a commitment to education as does China, a nation with which the city has been forging strong ties in recent years. His words were an affirmation of the school’s own growing connection with educational institutions there. In January, North Park reached an agreement with five Chinese universities that will establish cross-cultural learning and research opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students and faculty.
The audience gave the mayor prolonged standing ovations prior to and after his address.
Daley’s participation at commencement had been a closely guarded secret and was finalized only in the last week-and-a-half.
Sean Stanton, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in vocal music, said he was thrilled the school had invited Daley to speak. “The school is always saying they are committed to being ‘intentionally urban,’ and this shows they mean it.”
In ceremonies held later in the day, degrees were presented to nearly 200 students in university graduate and seminary programs and the School of Adult Learning.
Earlier this month, Hans Nilsson, of Södra Vätterbygdens Folkhögskola (SVF), was awarded the first David Nyvall Medallion for Career-Long Service to North Park University for his work leading the CollegeLine exchange program for nearly 35 years.”