BU Today

Arts & Entertainment + Campus Life

Veteran Broadcaster to Deliver Commencement Address

Couric to draw on personal, professional experiences

v_KC Headshot 7-09.jpg

Television journalist Katie Couric is now “demonstrating the courage to pursue a new vision of how to tell today’s stories to the American public,” says President Robert Brown. Photo courtesy of CBS News

Katie Couric’s journalism career plunged her into epic events—9/11, the Iraq War, the election of the first African American president—and won her six Emmys and a Peabody Award. But what she’s called her more gratifying “higher purpose” began when she allowed a slender tube to be threaded into her colon on live, national television.

That 2000 colonoscopy on NBC’s Today show, which Couric then cohosted, began a second career as advocate and fundraiser for cancer research. After the broadcast, colonoscopies surged 20 percent, with many viewers later writing to Couric to thank her for saving their lives.  Couric went on to cofound the National Colorectal Cancer Research Alliance. Her advocacy was the direct result of personal tragedy. In 1998, Couric’s husband, Jay Monahan, died of colon cancer. He was just 41, leaving Couric to raise their two young daughters.

From morning TV host to widow, pioneering evening news anchor, and charity fundraiser, Couric has traveled the length of American celebrity, a breadth of experience she’ll draw on as the speaker at BU’s 138th Commencement exercises on Sunday, May 22, at 1 p.m. on Nickerson Field. The 54-year-old CBS Evening News anchor also will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters. The ceremony coincides with a transition in Couric’s own life: next month, she will leave CBS, when her contract expires. She is reportedly planning a syndicated talk show, to debut in September 2012.

“Katie Couric is a wonderful model for our students,” says University President Robert A. Brown. “She began as an intern and has risen to the pinnacle of her profession. Along the way, she held jobs behind the camera and then excelled in front of it, and now she is demonstrating the courage to pursue a new vision of how to tell today’s stories to the American public.”

Couric spent 15 years at Today before moving to CBS,  where she became the first solo woman anchor of a network newscast. Broadcast news’ most storied throne during Walter Cronkite’s reign, the Evening News sagged in the ratings long before Couric took over, and it remains third behind NBC and ABC.

Whether she’ll hint at her plans during her BU talk only Couric knows. But in her Commencement address last year at Case Western Reserve, she focused less on broadcasting than on her cancer work and on concrete life advice to the graduates, including the value of “chutzpah.”

She recalled applying for an entry-level job at ABC in 1979, and hearing nothing back, going to its offices and asking the receptionist to put her through by phone to the executive producer of the evening news broadcast. “Hi, Davey,” she recalled saying. “You don’t know me, but your twin brothers, Steve and Eddie, went to Yorktown High School with my sister Kiki, and I used to play with your niece Julie, who lives up the street from me. Do you think I could come up and say hi?” Taken aback, he agreed, and then passed her on to a human resources director, who, Couric said, told her he  admired her “moxie, and I watched as he moved my résumé from the bottom of the pile to the top.”

“Now more than ever, you need to have chutzpah,” she told the Case Western Reserve students. “You need to do something that sets you apart.” Oh, she had one other bit of advice for impressing a potential employer: “Clean up your Facebook page.”

Couric last month published the book The Best Advice I Ever Got: Lessons From Extraordinary Lives, a collection of essays by prominent people. Profits from the book, inspired by her Case address, will go to Scholarship America to subsidize college students.

Couric earned a BA in English from the University of Virginia and began her journalism career as a desk assistant at ABC News. She joined the fledgling CNN for a four-year stint in 1980, then worked as a reporter at local stations in Miami and Washington, D.C., before joining NBC News.

Katie Couric is one of six honorary degree recipients being honored at this year’s Commencement. Victoria Reggie Kennedy, an advocate on behalf of children and families, will be presented with a Doctor of Laws. Jacques Pépin, chef, television personality, and author, will receive a Doctor of Humane Letters. Noted artist and sculptor Frank Stella will be awarded a Doctor of Fine Arts. NPR journalist Nina Totenberg will be presented with a Doctor of Humane Letters. Ahmed Zewail, a Nobel Prize-winning scientist and a professor at the California Institute of Technology, will receive a Doctor of Science.

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

+ Comments

Post Your Comment

(never shown)