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Commencement 2000

CUA Chancellor, Alumnus Cardinal Hickey Receives Honorary Degree

"Later Today" Host Celebrates Mother’s Sacrifices in Speech at CUA

May 13, 2000

On the eve of Mother’s Day, NBC television host Jodi Applegate spoke movingly about her own mother, who hid her pregnancy from everyone in her small West Virginia town, pretended to adopt the daughter she gave birth to, and made great sacrifices to raise her.

Applegate, host of NBC’s "Later Today," was the commencement speaker at The Catholic University of America’s 111th commencement. Some 1,100 students were awarded bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees during the ceremony on the steps of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on the CUA campus.

Cardinal James A. Hickey, archbishop of Washington and a CUA alumnus and trustee, received an honorary degree for his contributions to the university, the archdiocese of Washington and to the church.

Applegate, who was honored by the Very Rev. David M. O’Connell, C.M., CUA’s president with the President’s Medal, spoke of her experiences with NBC News, where she has served as host of "Later Today" since 1997. She told an audience of about 10,000 gathered at the university that popular media can trivialize important issues and Americans may have difficulty finding meaning in the static of popular culture.

Applegate Speech

"My job is a peculiar vantage point from which to watch the world go by like a surreal parade," Applegate said. "Though anyone with a TV and a remote control can experience a similar immersion in the culture and yet detachment from it.

"Our popular culture – including the Internet and of course and especially television – has an uncanny knack for equalizing everything. As you flip or surf it all gets sliced and diced and flattened out and juxtaposed and effectively spliced together in no particular sequence or proportion."

To illustrate what is truly meaningful, Applegate offered her personal story. She told of the sacrifices made by her mother, Margaret Rogers Applegate, who died of cancer when Applegate was only 17. Only after her mother’s death did Applegate learn how her mother hid the secret of Applegate’s birth.

"She’d lived her whole life in the same two-bedroom rowhouse without central heat in Wheeling, West Virginia," Applegate said of her mother, whom she described as "slim and stylish and understated, not half bad for a small town would-be Jackie Kennedy."

When her mother discovered her pregnancy, she hid it from her family and friends. One weekend in 1964, Applegate said, her mother left for a "shopping" trip to Pittsburgh, came home slimmer and waited seven months to reclaim the infant she had left in foster care and visited every weekend. Applegate told of her family’s custom of bringing an orphan home to spend the Christmas holidays with them. That Christmas, Applegate’s mother brought her own infant home and kept her.

The ruse fooled no one in Wheeling, Applegate said, but it allowed her mother, who remained "fiercely proud of her Catholic faith" throughout her life, to hold her head up in her small town.

"My mother existed largely so that I could," Applegate said. And, she added, "if you’re lucky enough to still have your mother, or a close approximation, call her. I don’t know her. But I do know she made sacrifices for you that you will never even know about."

". . .I may never be a mother. But I suspect that motherhood is utterly bittersweet, like life itself. Absolutely taken for granted, yet absolutely hungered for neverendingly," she said.

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