Jerry Kremer

Today’s graduates, hungry like the Yankees

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Whether we like it or not, our political system and our erratic president are wearing us down on a daily basis, so it’s worthwhile to switch to a completely different topic. At this time of year, I favor discussing college graduations and the Yankees. I’m not favoring them over the Mets, just using them as an example of hopeful signs in a dreary world.

Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of participating in a graduation ceremony at Hofstra University. It was a distinct honor for me, as a trustee, to present an honorary degree to Wolf Blitzer, CNN’s legendary anchor for 20 years and the star of “The Situation Room” for 14 years. For someone who is such a familiar television presence, Blitzer is a humble and engaging figure. I’ve met quite a few talking television heads over the years, and most of them are unwilling to exchange simple hellos, even if you want to praise them.

Blitzer gave a stirring speech to the graduates, in which he told his life story. He’s the son of Holocaust survivors. He attended SUNY Buffalo and graduated with a history degree. Not knowing what he wanted in life, he enrolled in graduate school and earned a master’s degree in international relations. He worked at a variety of jobs — valet, cab driver, Electrolux salesman. He said he didn’t realize journalism was his passion until a graduate school professor suggested he apply for a reporting job at Reuters.

Blitzer urged Hofstra graduates to find their passion and make their fortune, but never forget their home. He told them not to be discouraged while they’re pursuing their goals. He reminded them that there would be setbacks, but in the end, if they stayed determined, they would succeed. He challenged them to continue learning, and to use their college experience to uphold the ideals of American democracy. While I was impressed with his message, I was equally impressed with the graduates who stopped on the platform to express their thanks for that stirring message.

The generation that is graduating this year faces more challenges than ever before. The job market has tightened, and there aren’t as many opportunities as were available to my generation. But students have begun to meet those challenges by doing things differently than we did. They’re starting up small businesses, mastering the high-tech world and volunteering to work in programs that help people in need. They’re developing people skills faster than their predecessors.

Believe it or not, there is a link between the Yankees and these graduates. If you look at the Bronx Bombers’ current roster, you’ll find few familiar names. In recent months, the team has signed a group of lesser-known players, the result of too many injuries to their marquee players. And to the surprise of almost everyone, they have performed far above fans’ expectations. Every day, it seems, some relatively unknown player, who some might call a castoff, helps the team win in some exciting way.

There’s a moral to this story. There are countless people out there who, on the surface, may not look like stars, but if you give them a chance, they’ll perform well. Today’s graduates are painfully aware of the hurdles they must overcome, but are willing and able to take on any opportunities that are given to them. It is incumbent on our business leaders to extend some extra help to these youngsters, who may become the stars of tomorrow.

As for the rest of us, there are other hopeful signs emerging from the graduates. They seem to be more attuned to the world around them than I’ve ever seen before. They are aware of the need for affordable housing, access to health care and fair wages, and want a climate in which they will be safe. They may look like they’re on their cellphones all the time, but most of them are focused on the big picture, and that should be reassuring to everyone.

Today’s graduates: not unlike the Yankees.

Jerry Kremer was a state assemblyman for 23 years, and chaired the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee for 12 years. He now heads Empire Government Strategies, a business development and legislative strategy firm. Comments about this column? JKremer@liherald.com.