AP BRONXVILLE, N.Y. — Hard-charging White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel paused for a reflective address at his alma mater Friday, describing the humiliation of being demoted by then-President Bill Clinton and the brutal illness he survived as a teenager.
Emanuel told 450 graduates of Sarah Lawrence College that his most important life lessons have come from "a lot of pain, some anguish, and some soul-searching."
Known for sharp elbows and brash words, Emanuel grew emotional, choking back tears as he recalled lying near death in a hospital bed as a teenager, fighting off a blood infection from a cut finger that later had to be partly amputated.
"Nearly losing my life made me want to save my life and made me want to live my life," Emanuel said, advising students, "Don't be reckless with what's been given to you."
He also recalled being demoted and nearly losing his role as a top aide to Clinton in 1993. "I probably shot off my mouth a few too many times and I probably picked one too many fights," Emanuel said.
But he also cracked jokes and poked fun at the aggressive reputation that has earned him the tag "Rhambo."
The Daily Beast compiled Emanuel's best laugh lines:
"As chief of staff, I am humbled _ a quality that does not come naturally _ by the incredible array of problems that President Obama confronts on a daily basis," he said.
Emanuel, 49, graduated from Sarah Lawrence in 1981. A ballet student, he attended the college in part for its strong dance program.