Labor Secretary delivers graduation speech

by Christopher Kao | 6/12/94 5:00am

"Graduation is a time to tackle the world, to be red hot with ambition, to begin the challenge," Labor Secretary Robert Reich '68, the featured speaker at today's Commencement, told his class in 1968.

Speaking on Class Day in June, 1968, a year marked by the explosion of race riots nationwide and the continuing war in Vietnam, he called on his classmates to take action and to not be afraid to step up and make a difference.

"The point is that it will take guts to really commence in June of 1968, to be willing to take an alternative course, to be willing to build something when destruction is mounting on all sides,'' he said.

Reich returns to Hanover today, having accomplished just that. After leaving the College, he used his talents to make a difference as a distinguished professor, author and public servant.

During Convocation in the fall of 1967, as president of the Undergraduate Council, the College's then-governing student body, Reich told students, "It is becoming increasingly clear our four years at Dartmouth College must relate squarely to what's happening out there, beyond the suburbs."

"Our experience here must be more relevant than 36 courses and 12 big weekends, which give the minimal expertise and social facility to get along in the society from which we came," he said.

"Our life must be more significant than the placid Georgian brick, green and white, freshman-beanie, departmental, hour-exam, little existence that we have come to know as our Dartmouth existence," Reich added.

"We must no longer look inward, but pledge ourselves to look outward. Our geographic location must give us objectivity, not insulation; our libraries and courses must give us perspective, not breed passivity."

Reich heeded his own call to action.

He was class president his freshman, sophomore and junior years and was elected president of the Undergraduate Council his junior spring.

In between his leadership positions, Reich, a history major, found enough time to be elected to Phi Beta Kappa and graduate summa cum laude. Junior summer, he interned in the Senate office of Robert Kennedy.

Reich's achievements did not go unnoticed. A week before graduating, he was profiled by Time Magazine as "The Tiniest Big Man on Campus." The title referred to Reich's less-than-60-inch frame, the result of a disorder which affects his legs and lower spine.

Reich, who capped off his senior year by being named a Rhodes Scholar, met another up-and-comer, fellow Rhodes Scholar and future President, Bill Clinton in the fall of 1968.

During his trip to Oxford, Reich became seasick, and Clinton brought Reich some chicken soup.

The two hit it off and continued their friendship at Yale Law School and, afterwards, when Clinton was Governor of Arkansas. Clinton read all of Reich's books about government and economics in today's changing world.

"Bill has had all of my books inflicted on him and has done me the honor of actually reading and commenting on them," Reich said in a September interview with The Dartmouth.

Reich's book -- "The Work of Nations," which he wrote in 1991 -- influenced Clinton's presidential campaign with an extensive justification for increased government intervention to help the U.S. compete in the new global economy.

Reich also met another special person while at Oxford -- his wife, Clare Dalton.

"The first two weeks of September in 1968 were very special to me," Reich said."Sometimes in one's life the clouds part, and a special ray of sunshine illuminates the surroundings."

After graduating from law school, Reich started working for the government. He served as an assistant to the Solicitor General in the Ford Administration. He then worked as Director of Policy Planning for the Federal Trade Commission in the Carter administration.

Reich later taught political economy as a public policy professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government for more than a decade.

But, even after moving beyond Hanover, Reich did not sever his ties with the College. He was a member of his class executive committee and an Alumni Councilor before being named to the College's Board of Trustees in 1987.

"Dartmouth will always be special to me," Reich said in September.

Reich, however, had to step down as a College Trustee in 1993 to serve in President Bill Clinton's cabinet as Secretary of Labor. According to a press release from his office in Washington, Reich was appointed to "bring forth a revolution in lifetime training and education of the workforce."

Reich was born in Scranton, Penn., in 1946, the son of a Dartmouth graduate -- Edwin Reich '35.

He has written seven books and more than 200 articles on the global economy and the U.S. workforce.

He lives in Washington, D.C. with his wife and their two sons, Adam and Sam.