Graduation a Lifelong Process, Couric Tells Class of 2011
Veteran TV broadcaster cites taking, and leaving, CBS News job
In the slideshow above, take in the sights and sounds of BU’s 138th Commencement. Watch Katie Couric’s speech below. Video by BU Productions. Photos by BU Photography
Less than 72 hours after graduating from her anchor’s chair at CBS Evening News, Katie Couric advised Boston University seniors to embrace a lifetime of “inevitable” graduations.
Taking the anchor job five years ago was different from her 15 years cohosting the Today show, Couric said at Sunday’s 138th Commencement. “But I was ready for a change,” and while “getting out of your comfort zone can be, well, uncomfortable…today is just the first of many graduations in your life.”
Even loss is a graduation, Couric said, pointing to the death of her husband, Jay Monahan, from cancer in 1998. As some graduates teared up, she recalled how “in an instant, everything changed” as Monahan fought unsuccessfully for life. “Every day, I marveled at his extraordinary strength, courage, and grace,” she said, adding that when he died, she found comfort in a quote from Thomas Jefferson: “The earth belongs to the living.” The experience, she said, led to the work of which she’s most proud, raising money for cancer research.
Under a cloudy sky mercifully free from the relentless rain that had pelted Boston the preceding week, 20,000-plus people watched Couric speak and receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from President Robert A. Brown.
Regaling the crowd with her career highs and lows, she urged the grads to be resilient in the face of unavoidable setbacks and mistakes. “It’s tough out there,” she said, noting the high unemployment rate. But “you are not a number or a statistic. You are, as the line from the poem “Invictus” goes, the master of your fate.…Find ways to set yourself apart.”
As she had promised via video at this year’s Senior Breakfast on May 6, Couric answered questions sent in advance by graduating seniors.
On the impact of social media: “Social networking is no substitute for being social.” While lauding it for enhancing journalism and news consumers’ participation in it, she decried “appalling” online incivility and the rants of “haters and trolls.”
On the secret to getting better-looking every day: “Like Betty White, this glow comes from nothing more than the kindness I learned from my animal friends.”
On the people and experiences that inspire her: doctors who rushed to aid the victims of the 2010 Haitian earthquake; an unemployed steelworker and single father who used federal stimulus money to return to school and begin a new career as a nurse; and the faces before her at Commencement.
She sprinkled jokes from start to finish, telling the graduates she was jealous as she looked at their faces (“wrinkle-free, damn you”) and that she was glad to be at BU “instead of my safety school, BC.” (Couric is a graduate of the University of Virginia.)
In bestowing her honorary degree, Brown cited Couric’s Murrow, Peabody, and Emmy awards, saying, “With competence, grace, and integrity, you are equally at ease reporting on the day’s events from a studio on West 57th Street, the streets of Fallujah and Baghdad, the shores of the Gulf Coast, or the ruins of Port-au-Prince.” Noting her work for cancer research, he said, “We admire and appreciate these efforts.”
Last Thursday, Couric delivered a low-key valedictory broadcast as CBS Evening News anchor. The first solo woman anchor of a network evening newscast, she left to develop a syndicated talk show that she’ll launch next year.
In his traditional charge to graduates, Brown said, “You join a long line of Boston University graduates. Your accomplishments will be part of the fabric of our legacy. On your shoulders rests the enormous responsibility of guiding America and the world.”
At the ceremony, Brown presented the Metcalf Awards, the University’s highest teaching honor: the Metcalf Cup and Prize for Excellence in Teaching to Judith Chaffee, a College of Fine Arts associate professor, and Metcalf Awards for Excellence in Teaching to Wayne LaMorte, a School of Public Health and School of Medicine professor, and David Walker, a School of Law professor.
Besides Couric, receiving honorary degrees were activist and attorney Victoria Reggie Kennedy, Doctor of Laws; chef, author, and BU instructor Jacques Pépin, Doctor of Humane Letters; painter and sculptor Frank Stella, Doctor of Fine Arts; National Public Radio journalist Nina Totenberg (COM’65), Doctor of Humane Letters; and Baccalaureate speaker Ahmed Zewail, a Nobel Prize–winning scientist and a professor at the California Institute of Technology, Doctor of Science.