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Katie Couric To Speak at Commencement

Honorary degree recipients announced at Senior Breakfast

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Ray Curran (SAR’11) (from left), President Robert Brown, Missy Goldberg (CAS’11), Shilpa Reddy (SAR’11), and Eddie Chen (SAR’11) at Friday’s Senior Breakfast at the Metcalf Ballroom. Photo by Cydney Scott

It was widely reported that Katie Couric would be BU’s Commencement speaker May 22. But few knew the newscaster would ask for help with her talk, via video, at this morning’s Senior Breakfast.

“I wanted to do something special,” said Couric, who next month leaves the anchor chair at CBS Evening News, in a recorded message beamed to seniors just finishing their frittatas. “So I thought I’d ask you what youd like to hear. In my Commencement address, I’ll answer some questions directly from the graduating class.” She invited students to tweet their questions to her at @deanelmore or email them to dos@bu.edu.

In her lighthearted videogram, Couric urged the crowd to “try to contain yourself” over her upcoming talk, dubbing it “the best thing since there was a Taco Bell in Warren Towers.” She concluded with the applause-garnering line, “Go Terriers. Ruff!

University President Robert A. Brown confirmed Couric’s selection at the breakfast in the Metcalf Ballroom. Brown also disclosed the honorary degree recipients: Couric, Doctor of Humane Letters; activist Victoria Reggie Kennedy, Doctor of Laws; TV chef, author, and BU lecturer Jacques Pépin, Doctor of Humane Letters; painter Frank Stella, Doctor of Fine Arts; radio and television journalist Nina Totenberg (COM’65), Doctor of Humane Letters; and chemist and physicist Ahmed Zewail, Doctor of Science. The 138th Commencement exercises will take place on Sunday, May 22. The Commencement Day Baccalaureate speaker will be Zewail, who teaches at the California Institute of Technology and who won a Nobel Prize in 1999 for his research into superfast molecular transformations lasting a millionth of a billionth of a second. Monica Narang (CAS’11) will be the student speaker.

Brown also announced the winners of the University’s highest teaching honors. Judith Chaffee, a College of Fine Arts associate professor of movement, will receive the Metcalf Cup and Prize for Excellence in Teaching. And two faculty members will each be given a Metcalf Award for Excellence in Teaching: Wayne LaMorte, a professor of epidemiology and assistant dean for education at the School of Public Health, and David Walker, Maurice Poch Faculty Research Scholar and a professor at the School of Law.

The president told the seniors that the University had received an anonymous $500,000 donation to jump-start an endowment campaign to provide more money for student clubs and activities, which the seniors and other students had identified as a need. The University will give another $1 million to the fundraising campaign, he said, and income from the nascent endowment will increase next year’s activities allocation by 15 percent.

Couric, 54, made history as the first solo woman anchor of a network news broadcast when she joined CBS Evening News in 2006. She will step down from that position when her contract expires next month and is expected to develop a syndicated talk show for launch in fall 2012.

Couric became a fundraiser and an advocate for cancer research after her husband, Jay Monahan, died of colon cancer in 1998. An honors graduate of the University of Virginia, she is a former cohost of NBC’s Today show, a recipient of George Foster Peabody and Edward R. Murrow awards, and a six-time Emmy winner.

Kennedy, the widow of U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy (Hon.’70), is the founding president of Common Sense About Kids and Guns, a nonprofit that works to protect children from gun deaths and injuries. She is cofounder and a trustee of the planned Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, in Boston, and a trustee of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. She earned undergraduate and law degrees at Tulane.

Pépin has hosted many cooking shows on PBS, often with his friend Julia Child (Hon.’76). He has written for the New York Times and Food & Wine magazine and was personal chef to Charles de Gaulle, the president of France from 1958 to 1969. A lecturer at BU, where he has taught since 1983, Pépin designed its Certificate Program in the Culinary Arts and codeveloped the Master of Liberal Arts in Gastronomy program. For his work, he received Metropolitan College’s Roger Deveau Memorial MET Part-Time Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2005. He is the author of more than two dozen cookbooks and memoirs. He is a recipient of the Legion of Honor, the highest civilian award of his native France, and earned a master’s in 18th-century French literature from Columbia.

Stella, a Malden, Mass., native and Princeton graduate, painted houses in Brooklyn after college to supplement his artistic work. His 1959 exhibition Sixteen Americans at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York launched him to public recognition. Hewing to what one critic called “post-painterly abstraction” in his work, he became the youngest artist honored with a MoMA retrospective, in 1970. President Obama awarded him the National Medal of Arts in 2009.

Totenberg, the daughter of College of Fine Arts Music Professor Emeritus Roman Totenberg, has won numerous awards for her coverage of legal affairs for National Public Radio. She attended BU for three years before beginning her journalism career, joining NPR in 1975. She is a regular panelist on the syndicated public affairs program Inside Washington.

Find more Commencement information online.

Watch a video of Kenneth Elmore, dean of students, take a plunge into the Charles River online. 

Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu.

2 Comments

2 Comments on Katie Couric To Speak at Commencement

  • Anonymous on 05.06.2011 at 6:03 pm

    OMG from Eric Holder to Katie Couric…geez what did the class of 2011 do wrong?

    Really looking forward to a talking head speaking at the grad…not surprising she is asking the students to write her speach as she has nothing to say unless someone else writes here script.

    Come on Brown, class of 2011 deserves better.

  • Jialu Cai on 05.23.2011 at 11:30 am

    The class of 2011 didn’t do anything wrong but had the great honor of hearing Katie Couric speak at their graduation. She’s asking for input from her audience, as any great speech (not “speach”) giver knows, to connect with the people that will be spending a hot day listening to a bunch of people they’ve probably never heard of talk. Giving input is so far away from writing someone’s speech for them.

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