WASHINGTON–While working at an Arby’s roast beef fast food restaurant, Mayor Rahm Emanuel sliced off the top one of his fingers when he was 17; the story–and the life lesson–made its way into Emanuel’s May, 2009 George Washington University commencement address. According to an advance text released by City Hall, Emanuel was going to use it again at a Christ the King High School graduation speech on Saturday. Both accounts of a pivotal event in Emanuel’s life are below. The only difference in the re-tellings is that in the 2009 speech five of his hospital roommates died in the bed next to him. By 2012, that number was down to three. In 2009, Emanuel said he was in the hospital eight weeks recovering; by 2012 that number was reduced to seven weeks.
Emanuel to graduates in 2012
“Believe it or not, I stumbled and made mistakes when I was your age too. It was exactly this time of year when I was 17 that I was working as a meat cutter and I sliced my finger very deeply. Being 17, I was a little reckless and I went swimming in Lake Michigan. This turned out to be a mistake. But, in my defense, it was prom night. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
“I ended up at the old Children’s Memorial Hospital with five blood infections, two bone infections, gangrene and a 105-plus-degree fever. For the first 96 hours, I sat in bags of ice, battling between life and death.
“I was in the hospital for 7 weeks. Three of my roommates at different times died in the bed next to me.
“It was a terrible time for me and worse for my parents. But to be honest, I can look back now and say I’m glad I went through it. Because a funny thing happened in that hospital: nearly losing my life made me want to live my life. That adversity gave me a seriousness of purpose that had been missing up until that point.
“It was that proximity to death that helped propel me through life, and it still does. From that hospital bed, to President Clinton’s White House, to President Obama’s White House, to standing before you today as Mayor of Chicago, I have managed to learn more from my setbacks than I ever did from my successes.”
Rahm in 2009, as I posted at the time…...
At age 17, working at an Arby’s roast beef joint, Emanuel accidently sliced off the top portion of his middle finger. Emanuel made this joke on himself at the April 2007 Gridiron dinner. “Of all the fingers to lose! I could not express myself for months. I had to learn to talk with my left hand.”
EMANUEL TO GRADUATES: “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 had lost — I was working as a meatcutter and sliced my finger deeply and not being — being 17, went swimming in Lake Michigan, ended up — it was prom night; that’s a legitimate thing to do — ended up with five blood infections, two bone infections, gangrene, and a 105 fever, and in a hospital for two months, and for the first 96 hours I battled between life and death.
“But what started as a minor mishap turned into a life-threatening infection. There were several weeks in the hospital, sleepness nights in the intensive care unit, five roommates who died. It was a terrible time for me and worse for my parents. But to be honest, I’m glad I went through it, because a funny thing happened along the way back from the precipe: Nearly losing my life made me want to live my life.
“So the first lesson I’d impart is this: Don’t be reckless with what you’ve been given. Take what you do and how you live your life seriously. It is that seriousness of purpose that I learned in that hospital bed for eight weeks, and I’m grateful for that lesson every day of my life, the things that didn’t matter so much any more, the little things. And I knew I wanted to make something of myself and make a difference in this world.
below, from City Hall…..
Mayor Rahm Emanuel Delivers Remarks at the Christ the King Jesuit Preparatory High School Commencement
Remarks As Prepared
Thank you Father Devron, faculty, guests, family and the very first graduates of Christ the King – the Class of 2012. On behalf of the entire City of Chicago: Congratulations.
You are an historic class. Not only are you the first graduates of Christ the King; 100 percent of you are graduating today and 100 percent of you are going to college next year.
You have proven that with purpose, persistence and perseverance, no challenge is too great, no bar is too high and no dream is too big for your futures. You have beaten every odd, you have overcome every obstacle and you have seized every opportunity in order to reach this day. Your teachers, your family, your City and your Mayor are immensely proud of you.
I want to thank you for letting me join you today, because this is your day. You know it wasn’t easy to get here. But, even when it was tough, you didn’t give in – you dug in, and you dug deep. You didn’t just believe in your future; you shaped it. You haven’t just cleared the bar; you’ve set it for everyone else.
While this is an historic year for Christ the King, it’s also an historic year for Chicago. For the first time on record, the Chicago Public School system is graduating more than 60 percent of its students from high school. I just visited Morgan Park High School where they’re graduating 80 percent of their seniors. Tomorrow, I’m visiting Golder College Prep where they’re graduating 100 percent of their seniors. There is a lot to be proud of here in the City of Chicago.
And there’s a lot to be excited about here on the West Side. Graduates of Christ the King: you’re going to The University of Illinois. You’re going to Northern Illinois. You’re going to DePaul. You’re going to Marquette. You’re going to Columbia College, Knox College, Saint Mary’s College, Indiana State, Dominican University. You’re going to Michigan State, Alabama A&M, University of Iowa and many, many more colleges.
100 percent of you are going to college because you have given – and your teachers have given, and your parents have given – 100 percent of yourselves.
But you know what, based on everything people say, you’re not supposed to be here. Because of crime, or income, or background, or race, or neighborhood, or family – conventional wisdom says this day is not possible.
Believe me; I hear it all the time. Graduation and college just can’t happen in that neighborhood, they say; not with those challenges; not with those kids.
Well, somebody forgot to tell that to the graduating Class of 2012. I want everyone in this City and everyone in this country to look right here at the very first graduates of Christ the King and see that nothing is impossible for the students of Chicago. 100 percent of you are graduating today, and 100 percent of you are going to college.
You have learned the value of education. You have learned the value of work. You have proven yourselves. And you have proven a point for all of us who believe that success depends on two essential things: a parent at home who loves you unconditionally and a teacher at school who believes in you wholeheartedly.
Forget about everything else – if a child has those two things, there’s nothing they can’t do, and nowhere they can’t go. As some of you may know, my old boss, President Obama, has a little saying. Let me tell you Class of 2012, you are the perfect example of why “Yes, we can”.
To all the naysayers and to all the cynics who say that certain kids just can’t graduate high school, tell them to come here to Christ the King and say that. To anyone who says that because of his or her background a kid can’t make it to college, tell them to come here to Christ the King. To anyone who says that some neighborhoods just can’t rise above violence or crime, tell them to come here to Christ the King. And to anyone who says that teachers just can’t succeed in certain places, not in certain schools, not with certain kids – I want them to come here and say that to Father Devron and to all the teachers here at Christ the King. I know Father Devron will tell them: yes they can.
Because the truth is, those are all just easy excuses. You are here today because you didn’t settle for other people’s excuses. You didn’t adopt their low expectations. You set your own goals, your own expectations. You set them for yourselves and you set them high. And that is how you proved possible what others said was impossible.
That is how you achieved a 100 percent graduation rate and a 100 percent college acceptance rate. That’s how the students of Chicago achieved better than a 60 percent graduation rate this year for the first time on record.
And we’re just getting started. We’re going to keep raising those expectations and raising those graduation rates; we’re going to keep improving our schools and keep improving our scores and keep improving our students. It’s all about that secret sauce of a parent at home who loves you and a teacher at school who inspires you. That’s what makes an unstoppable student. – And if you add the final ingredient of a great principal like Father Devron, that’s how you get 100 percent.
So, while today’s accomplishment is truly your own, you know you didn’t do it on your own. Your teachers and your families were there with you every step of the way. Take a moment right now to thank your incredible teachers and staff here at Christ the King. Also remember, while you did the studying, your families did the sweating and the stressing. So, give a hand to your families as well – to your moms and dads, brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts and grandparents – this day also belongs to them.
It’s a privilege for me to be here today, and it’s also very personal. I visited Christ the King more than a year-and-half ago on Martin Luther King Day, before I was elected Mayor. By the way, I want to thank my tour guides, Kendra Lee and Noel Spencer. Kendra: good luck at Tennessee State. And Noel: thank you for serving your country in the United States Air Force.
I wanted to visit specifically on Martin Luther King Day, because nowhere do you feel that sense of Dr. King’s “Fierce Urgency of Now” than right here at Christ the King.
You walk outside this building and you see boards on the houses, and crime on the streets and liquor stores where there should be grocery stores. You walk inside this building and you see college banners on the wall, you see students on the honor roll, and you see teachers on a mission. You come away inspired and you want to keep coming back.
I saw the problems outside, it’s true. But I saw that the potential inside was more powerful. I wanted the rest of the City to come here and see what’s possible when you combine parents and teachers and principals committed to a common mission: educational excellence.
So, right on the spot, I told Father Devron that if he graduated every one of his seniors, then, win or lose in the campaign, I wanted to come speak at the graduation. I don’t know if it’s part of his religious vows, but Father Devron doesn’t make any bets he can’t keep. And he knows what I know: you never bet against the children of the City of Chicago.
Father Devron believed in you, your teachers believed in you, your parents believed in you – and I want to let you know that your City believes in you. That’s why I am proud that next year, we’re opening up City Hall to Christ the King students so that they can complete their corporate work study in the Mayor’s Office.
Here at Christ the King, you learned history, and math, and science. But at your work study you learned about hard work; you learned about dedication; you learned about setting goals and you learned about personal responsibility. While many students in much easier circumstances haven’t paid attention to their education, you have paid for yours – literally. And it has paid off. You haven’t just achieved success today; you’ve earned it for yourselves.
You’re passing one milestone today: high school graduation. Now you have to focus on the next milestone four years from now: college graduation. The lessons you learned here at Christ the King, both inside and outside of the classroom, will see you through the next four years – and, truthfully, the next forty years.
The most valuable lesson you learned was that it’s how you manage adversity that says more about your character than your actual individual accomplishments. You discovered, not always pleasantly, that it’s when you stumble that you end up putting your best foot forward.
Believe it or not, I stumbled and made mistakes when I was your age too. It was exactly this time of year when I was 17 that I was working as a meat cutter and I sliced my finger very deeply. Being 17, I was a little reckless and I went swimming in Lake Michigan. This turned out to be a mistake. But, in my defense, it was prom night. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
I ended up at the old Children’s Memorial Hospital with five blood infections, two bone infections, gangrene and a 105-plus-degree fever. For the first 96 hours, I sat in bags of ice, battling between life and death.
I was in the hospital for 7 weeks. Three of my roommates at different times died in the bed next to me.
It was a terrible time for me and worse for my parents. But to be honest, I can look back now and say I’m glad I went through it. Because a funny thing happened in that hospital: nearly losing my life made me want to live my life. That adversity gave me a seriousness of purpose that had been missing up until that point.
It was that proximity to death that helped propel me through life, and it still does. From that hospital bed, to President Clinton’s White House, to President Obama’s White House, to standing before you today as Mayor of Chicago, I have managed to learn more from my setbacks than I ever did from my successes.
And so have you. The diploma you are about to receive represents not just the achievements you have obtained, but also the adversities you have overcome. And that’s the lesson that will prepare and propel each of you into the next stages of your own lives.
There is a reason why we call graduation ceremonies “commencements”. A commencement is a beginning. So, as much as today marks the end of one challenging journey, it is the beginning of another. And I hope that when you graduate from college, your journey leads you back to Chicago.
I hope that you bring your education and talents back here to this neighborhood like your classmate Camille Travis. Camille found her passion during her work-study at Advocate Christ Medical Center. Now, she’s on her way to study biology at the University of Illinois. She dreams of coming back to Austin to serve her community at the PCC Wellness Center on Lake Street as a physician. Camille is coming back to Chicago to use her education to build up our city.
My challenge to you, Class of 2012, is to do the same. Whether it’s as a teacher, or a principal, or a mayor, or an alderman, or a police officer, or a nurse, or a community organizer – I’m asking you to come back to Chicago, give back to Chicago, build up Chicago, because you are the future of Chicago.
You have already proven that you are up to that challenge. That’s what makes your teachers, and your family, and your city proud of you. That is what makes you the Christ the King Class of 2012. Thank you and congratulations.
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