Pairing the names Odysseus and Kim Kardashian in the same sentence seems unlikely, but Bonnie Hammer, the Hollywood Reporter’s “Most Powerful Woman in Entertainment,” strung them together in her BU Commencement speech Sunday, offering a storyteller’s advice on how the graduates might construct the narrative of a successful postcollege life.
“When you leave today, you’ll begin to write the most powerful, most meaningful, and most entertaining story of your life. It’s the story of you,” said Hammer(CGS’69, COM’71, SED’75, Hon.’17), chair of NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment Group.
The BU graduates gave Hammer a standing ovation, but they reserved their loudest cheers for Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz (Hon.’17), one of this year’s five honorary degree recipients. The slugger got three rounds of applause before he even mounted the podium, as the giant video screen showed him in the entering procession. And his four-word acknowledgement after President Robert A. Brown conferred on him an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters—“Thank you very much”—got even more thunderous applause.
Hammer plumbed her career, which has involved oversight of a cable cornucopia that includes USA Network, Syfy, E! Entertainment, and Universal Cable Productions, for ideas on how the graduates might script their life stories, starting with the need for “unforgettable characters, from Odysseus to Kim Kardashian.” Mentors are among the necessary characters in real life, she said, citing Barry Diller, who was her boss at USA and Syfy years ago.
Diller, she recalled, once emailed her over an entire weekend about a Syfy show she oversaw featuring a psychic. If he truly was psychic, why was he on a science fiction channel? Diller asked. “And if he wasn’t real, why the hell were we in business with him at all?”
“He wanted to understand just what I had decided, and how,” she said. “My facts, my logic, my entire thought process. He forced me to think outside my comfort zone, and create a watertight argument that I had to own.” By 11 p.m. that Sunday, the back-and-forth had reinforced her view that because no one can provepsychics are real, Syfy was the appropriate home for the show. Diller’s final email read, “Okay, your arguments win.”
“To this day, those are some of the best four words I’ve ever heard,” Hammer told the BU crowd.