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Brian Williams Challenges Graduates

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Brian Williams Challenges Graduates

Brian WilliamsMay 15, 2004, dawned clear and beautiful. NBC News Anchor Brian Williams — the speaker at CUA’s 115th Annual Commencement — suggested the weather may have been specially ordered by CUA’s chancellor. “I saw Cardinal [Theodore] McCarrick do the most extraordinary thing as we were on our way [here],” Williams said upon taking the podium on the east steps of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. “He took out his cell phone and just said, ‘A few clouds.’ I don’t know who he was talking with.”

In due time, those few clouds arrived to filter the sun bearing down on 1,290 Catholic University graduates and their friends, families and professors. The sky was bright — and so were Williams’ memories of 1979–1980, the year he attended Catholic University and lived in the same residence hall as Edward Gillespie, B.A. 1983, who is now chairman of the Republican National Committee.

But the award-winning broadcast journalist had sobering words for the university’s graduates, whom he entreated to look beyond a self-centered culture. Williams warned new grads to beware the “I, me, my” media culture and its emphasis on consumerism and celebrity worship.

“Somehow in the face of a horrible terrorist attack we have allowed the trivial to become what sells newspapers and magazines in this country,” Williams said. “Somewhere along the way, we have become alarmingly self-centered. The expression ‘It’s about me’ threatens to kill all of us.”

Today’s students face the most uncertain world since the class of 1941, Williams said. But he added that the graduates in attendance have an advantage: a degree from a university that has prepared them well for troubled times. “Effective today you have a degree from a great university,” he said, “You have the grounding and community and blessing that a Catholic University education can bring.”

Williams will succeed Tom Brokaw as anchorman of “NBC Nightly News” in December. He revealed to the commencement audience that he had planned to be the anchor of one of the three network evening newscasts back when he was still a CUA undergraduate.

Williams noted that his commencement speech marked the first time that he had been back to the university since his days as a student. “The highlight of my time here, without question, was in this very doorway shaking hands with the Holy Father [Pope John Paul II] during the pontiff’s visit to CUA in 1979,” he said.

Very Rev. David M. O’Connell, C.M., university president, conferred an honorary doctorate on Williams. Other honors given at commencement included the President's Medal, awarded to Mike Lonergan, B.A. 1988, head coach of the CUA men’s basketball team from 1992 to spring 2004, and to Monsignor Paul Lenz, trustee emeritus of CUA and executive director of the Black and Indian Mission Office, Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions. The Thomas J. Shahan Award for Service was presented to longtime trustee Robert F. Comstock, A.B. 1958, J.D. 1964.

The Columbus School of Law held its commencement on May 29 in the basilica’s Great Upper Church. U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao addressed more than 270 graduating law students and received an honorary degree.

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Revised: August 2004

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The Catholic University of America,
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