Bloomberg visited Gregorio Luperon High School in Washington Heights this morning to mark the first day of school, his last as mayor. Here’s what he said, according to the city’s official transcript:
“Thank you for that kind introduction. Good morning, everyone. Buenos días.
“When I was walking in, one of my helpers said to me, ‘Are you nervous for the first day of school?’ And I tried to remember back to the first day of school, but the first day of school for me was an awful long time ago and I have absolutely no recollection whether I was nervous or not.
“I graduated high school, would anybody like to guess what year I graduated high school? Nobody? I’ll tell you, 1960. I always get that. But I was lucky enough to go to a public school in Medford, Massachusetts. My recollection is there were 600 kids in the class and I have nothing but good memories.
“And I can remember two teachers I’ll tell you a little bit about. But I’ve been a lucky guy, I had a chance to go to a good school and we want to make sure that everybody in New York City gets that opportunity to go to a good school.
“I hope you all had a great summer – but not so fantastic that you’re not excited to be here.
“Today – the first day of school – really is a very special day in our city. The start of each school year now holds such promise: it’s an opportunity to reconnect with friends that you may not have seen since June, or to see that special teacher or coach, to get a strong start so that you can build on everything that you achieved last year.
“That’s why I’m so happy to welcome you all on this first day here at Luperón High School – especially our incoming freshmen, the newest Generals. Generals, that’s your mascot for those of you who just are joining here.
“I want to encourage every freshman to wear the name of your new mascot with pride. The name generals, of course, honors this high school’s namesake: the Dominican military leader who helped restore sovereignty to the island back in 1865.
“But I think that generals has another, more current meaning as well, and that is as a reminder of this school’s outstanding record of achievement over the last few years.
“Luperón High School’s graduation rate has risen more than 22 points since 2005, and is now at 79 percent. And thanks to Principal Villar’s leadership, his great team here and, of course, the hard work of its students, Luperón High has received an A on every Progress Report for the past six years. It’s an amazing achievement.
“When you consider that almost all of the students here only recently became New Yorkers and have had to learn English as a second language, this school’s achievements are even more impressive.
“I can tell you that I take a Spanish lesson every day, I’ve been doing it for years. And it the hardest thing that I have ever done, but I am committed to this. I’ve said I’m not going to die until I speak Spanish like a native, and my Spanish instructor, who’s a Colombian lawyer, tells me that I’m going to have a very long life at the rate I’m going.
“This school’s success is a testament to this community and to the close partnership of parents with this school’s teachers and administrators. I think it’s also a testament to the combination of higher standards and education reforms that we’ve put in place – here at Luperón High, and at schools throughout the five boroughs.
“Achieving success begins with expecting success. Our core philosophy has always been that when it comes to education if we raise our expectations, the students will meet them.
“At the same time, we’ve made the investments and reforms necessary to help those students get there. That includes building the modern facility. It’s a 21st century building for a 21st century education.
“I remember standing with Principal Villar back in 2007 when we broke ground to begin building the school that you’re sitting in today. Back then, Luperón High was located in a converted factory on 181st Street. That building had no gym, no music rooms, no auditorium, and no science labs. And today, given what you have, it’s really hard to imagine it.
“So it was a very proud day when I joined your principal and teachers here in ‘08 at the very first day of classes at this building for the new high school.
“Soon, you’ll have to head to your first classes. And by day’s end, many of you will have received your first assignments. I can tell you this: the work is not going to be easy – it’s not supposed to be. But I believe in you, and your teachers believe in you.
“So when a science experiment is particularly tough or your math teacher assigns problems that take what seems like hours to solve – don’t give up. Keep at it.
“Your teachers are going to challenge you to stretch yourselves and work hard because that is the only way for you to succeed in the next grade, and after you graduate, and through your lives.
“I know firsthand what a great teacher can make. I hate to admit, but when I was a student at your age I was not a great student. As a matter of fact, I was basically a straight C student, I always say I made the top half of the class possible. You’ve got to think about that, I was in the bottom half all the time.
“But I admit that, like you, I was fortunate to have some great teachers – and one teacher in particular that I remember cared about me and pushed me to succeed, he was my history teacher, Mr. Lally. I don’t know whether he’s still alive, he would be very old today if he is.
“He had a way of making events and people of the past come alive, and that meant something to me. It brought history out of the textbooks and into the real world. And it was one of the first times I really connected what I was learning in school with what I knew I would need for the rest of my life.
“His passion was contagious; I think it’s fair to say I caught it. He made me a better student. He got me interested in ideas and eager to understand and communicate them.
“All of you have the potential to do exactly the same thing – all of you in this room have the potential to do anything you want if you work at it. So study hard – estudien mucho, as my teacher would say to me. Make this year the best year yet.
“The only piece of advice I can give you from somebody who’s about to be unemployed in another three months is you’ve got to work hard. Your future is in your hands. If you really want to make something out of it you can. And if you don’t, then you’re going to look back some day and say I wish I had.
“You want to have a good time, you want to have lots of friends, you want to play sports, you want to have lots of exposure to the arts, but you have to be able to communicate with people and work with people. And that’s what this school is going to teach you.
“Now, let me present someone who has been at the forefront of our educational reforms from the beginning. He now leads our efforts to prepare every student in our system, a million one hundred-odd thousand kids for success. He celebrated a birthday over the weekend, and I know there’s no better present for Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott than seeing our kids at school ready to learn.
“Dennis, happy birthday.”