Phil Schiliro, a Hofstra University alumnus who spent 30 years helping to shape policy in Washington and was recently picked by President Barack Obama to work on implementing the Affordable Care Act, reminded graduates Sunday that he -- and anyone who achieves success -- did not get there alone.
"If you are successful, and all of you are -- you're here today -- somebody along the line gave you some help," said Schiliro, keynote speaker at Hofstra's midyear commencement ceremony in Hempstead.
Schiliro, who received a bachelor's degree in political science in 1978, spoke to about 600 undergraduate and graduate degree candidates. "There may be a couple of you who have done it completely on your own. I can't say that. I didn't."
He recently accepted Obama's request to help implement the Affordable Care Act. Schiliro, 57, was part of the Obama administration as liaison to Congress and worked on getting the ACA passed, as well as the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the economic stimulus package and Wall Street and credit-card reforms.
Schiliro, who also received a degree from the Lewis and Clark College Law School in Portland, Ore., told the Hofstra graduates about individuals, family and whole communities who helped him succeed.
His benefactors included the neighbors who were surrogate aunts and uncles, and a childhood friend who put his body between Schiliro and a knife-wielding robber, and suffered wounds that required 100 stitches. That friend was in the audience and drew a round of applause when Schiliro asked him to stand.
Schiliro also cited the help he got from Hofstra faculty members who inspired him during his college days more than 35 years ago. Some of them were on the dais Sunday.
In recognition of Schiliro's "career in public service and record of achievement," the university bestowed a doctorate of humane letters on him.
"He has earned a place of high respect and renown in the highest of offices in our nation," Hofstra president Stuart Rabinowitz said. "His work has made a difference in the lives of millions of Americans now and into the future."
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said these graduates are unlike any before, because they have grown up with today's cutting-edge technologies.
"Technology is to you as water is to a fish," he said. "My advice to the class of 2013 is very simple: Go for it!"