Rauner explains personal motives at graduation

By Daily Egyptian, @SamBeard_DE

Gov. Bruce Rauner spoke at Saturday’s afternoon commencement ceremony, providing words of encouragement to students graduating before his proposed cuts to higher education kick-in.

Despite more than 2,700 signatures calling for Rauner’s removal as keynote speaker, the university kept true to its decision — which was made in January, before his budget was introduced — and allowed the governor to speak at the commencement for the College of Business and the College of Education and Human Services.

The resistance against Rauner’s appearance spawned in the wake of his proposed cuts to social services, including an unprecedented $387 million slash in state funding to Illinois universities. If the governor’s budget is passed, the SIU system would lose $62 million, setting state funding back to a level not seen since 1986.

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Small groups of protesters who opposed Rauner’s recommended cuts to higher education and Medicaid held signs in silence outside the SIU Arena.

During his ten minute speech, Rauner passed on personal words of advice. He said his grandfather stressed the importance of perseverance, education and selflessness.

“[My grandfather] said, ‘Bruce, get a good education. It’s the key to your future, it’s the key to a better life,’” Rauner said. “He said, ‘Give back to your community, because everybody needs some help.’ We have a moral duty as God’s children to help each other, find ways to help and give back.”

He said another influential person in his life, his first boss, taught him to honor the golden rule. 

“Treat others the way you would like to be treated,” the governor said. “That’s an easy thing to say, it’s really hard to do.”

Rauner said these principles, along with God, have guided his life thus far.

“Making money is good, but you know what? That’s not the key to happiness, that’s not a key to success,” said Rauner, who’s reported net worth is $500 million to $950 million. “Success comes from helping everyone — giving back.”

He also stressed the importance of leaving a good legacy.

“Your reputation is your single most important asset. It takes years to build, it takes a few minutes to destroy,” Rauner said. “How others view you is the whole key to your success in life.”

However, not all Illinois residents believe Rauner is building himself a good reputation. 

More than 240 protesters rallied against Rauner’s proposed cuts on May 6 in front of Morris Library. “Don’t Cut Students,” “I Love Illinois, Don’t You?” and “How Do You Sleep At Night?” were some of the phrases plastered on protest signs. Mayor Mike Henry said the city of Carbondale stands with the protesters against the cuts.

The governor also told audience members to always look ahead and not let the little things hold them back.

“Failure and mistakes are part of every day,” Rauner said. “Don’t let it slow you down, they are just minor bumps in he road. Any failure, any mistake, is an opportunity to learn.”

Even so, those opposed to Rauner’s budget have said it is a mistake, citing that it directly threatens many students’ opportunities to learn. SIU President Randy Dunn has repeatedly said the governor’s cuts would be devastating to university.

At a town hall meeting May 7, Dunn said the governor’s cuts would effect the university’s ability to provide the necessary, hands-on experience that students need to succeed in the real world.

He said besides the destructive blows to various research centers and the School of Medicine, the university would lose more than 600 courses and potentially hundreds of graduate assistants and non-tenure track faculty members if the governor gets his way.

“You can’t be a research university without research centers,” Dunn said.

Rauner concluded his speech by describing what he aims to accomplish as governor.

“My primary goal is to work for you and your families, and make sure in your next phase in life that the Illinois economy is boomin’,” Rauner said. “So you’ve got great careers to choose from — to make a better life in every field that you choose to do.”

Rauner did not mention his budget cuts during his speech. Overall, the reaction from the graduating class was mixed.

Some students dropped jaws, while others stared and shook their heads. Less than half of those in caps and gowns applauded after the governor’s keynote appearance, although two graduates offered standing ovations. More than half of the audience members clapped after his speech, but certainly not all of them.

At a press conference following his speech the governor said SIU is one of the best universities on Earth. Despite this, he said neither the citizens’ opposition to his cuts, nor his recent visits to state universities have caused him to reconsider cutting their funding.

He said some people are hurt by cuts, and he wants to make sure Illinois has the best education in the world, but now is not the time to worry about either of those things. 

Rauner said the state cannot support schools and social services until the economy starts to grow. But first, he wants to lure businesses into Illinois with deregulation and competitively low tax-rates on the wealthy and corporations.

He said once this happens, the economy will improve and the state can start to support education again.

“We’ve been spending future generations’ money, we can’t do that anymore,” Rauner said. “While we restructure, it’s going to be a bit painful. I apologize for that. I don’t like that, but we’ve got to do it.”

Sam Beard can be reached at [email protected]

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