May 15, 2004
NBC Anchor Warns CUA Graduates of ‘Uncertain World’
Brian Williams Addresses 1,290 Receiving Degrees at 2004 Commencement
Award-winning NBC news anchor Brian Williams warned 1,290 Catholic University graduates that they face an “uncertain world” sullied by terrorism but they do so with a degree from a university whose values have prepared them well for troubling times.
“I don’t think there has been a graduating class heading out into a more uncertain world since the class of 1941,” said Williams who gave the address at CUA’s 115th Annual Commencement Ceremony on Saturday, May 15. The full text of his speech can be found at: http://publicaffairs.cua.edu/speeches/04CommencementWilliamsAddress.htm.
The entire commencement ceremony can be watched via webcast at: http://digitalmedia.cua.edu/commencement.
Noting how the graduates’ world has changed since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Williams said, “No American generation until now has been asked to do so much to stare down terrorism, to really reformulate the way we think as a nation and to face such unpredictable sacrifice while trying all the while to take the degrees that are conferred upon you here today and make a success of yourselves.”
Williams, who attended CUA from 1979 to 1980, acknowledged the heroism of troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and the valor of generations that served in earlier wars.
“We can try here today to make enough noise to make ourselves heard over there,” said Williams as he started to clap, prompting the crowd of graduates and their supporters to break into applause. He drew loud applause again when he asked, “Will all the veterans of foreign wars please stand up and accept our thanks?”
In contrast to the sacrifices made by earlier generations, Williams, 45, decried the trend in news coverage that glorifies “the trivial. Somewhere along the way we have become alarmingly self-centered. The expression ‘It’s about me’ threatens to kill all of us.”
“I, me, my, that is our problem,” said Williams. “[That is] “our problem in the media, the engine which, after all, fuels the celebration of celebrity. Our problem as consumers; our buying power makes it all go after all.”
Williams, who will succeed Tom Brokaw as anchorman of “NBC Nightly News” in December, reported in 2003 on the war in Iraq, where he was embedded with U.S. troops and became the first NBC News correspondent to reach Baghdad after the invasion by coalition forces. The anchor, who has more than 20 years of experience in broadcasting, conducted intensive live coverage of the September 11th attacks and their aftermath.
He has won three Emmys for news coverage and was named Best Anchor by USA Today after his election night coverage of the 2000 Presidential race.
Standing on the steps of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, 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.
Williams got started on the road to journalism at CUA, where he worked in the Office of Public Affairs. Though strapped for cash at the time, he said he was determined then to become an anchor and managing editor for one of three major U.S. networks. He was not the only one of his classmates to go on to a career in the public spotlight. Williams said he and GOP chairman Edward Gillespie, who graduated from CUA in 1983, lived in the same residence hall when they were students at the university.
Wrapping up his remarks, Williams noted that the graduates have an advantage over him. “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.”
Very Rev. David M. O’Connell, C.M., university president, conferred an honorary doctorate of letters on Williams at the ceremony and offered special congratulations and words of encouragement to the 2004 graduates.
“We are so proud of you who have received their doctorates, master’s and bachelor’s degrees today,” said Father O’Connell. “You join the thousands of alumni and alumnae of The Catholic University of America throughout the world. As you leave us, carry with you the hopes and visions of our shared history and mission. Although times will pass and memories will fade, this great institution has offered you a glimpse of what our world can be, if you embrace it with faith and hope and love.”
Father O’Connell also served as the official celebrant and homilist during the Baccalaureate Mass at the National Shrine on May 14. His homily can be found at: http://publicaffairs.cua.edu/speeches/04DOCbaccalaureatehomily.htm.
Outstanding students were lauded during the Honors Convocation on May 14 at Hartke Theatre. In a separate ceremony, 40 students were inducted into the honor society Phi Beta Kappa that day - Rev. Kurt Pritzl, O.P., dean of the School of Philosophy, addressed the new inductees. The text of his comments can be read at: http://publicaffairs.cua.edu/speeches/04PhiBetaKappaPritzlSpeech.htm.
The President's Medal was awarded to Monsignor Paul A. Lenz, executive director of the Black and Indian Mission Office, Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions, and Michael T. Lonergan, award-winning head coach of the CUA Men’s Basketball Team from 1992 to spring 2004.
An emeritus member of CUA’s Board of Trustees, Monsignor Lenz was instrumental in securing for the university a $1-million endowed scholarship from the bureau to enable deserving Catholic Native Americans to pursue undergraduate studies. Monsignor Lenz was tapped in 1974 to lead the Washington, D.C.-based Roman Catholic organization founded in 1874 for the protection and promotion of Catholic Black and Indian missions in the United States.
Lonergan, a 1988 CUA student-athlete, is the only coach in the nation, in any division, to lead his team to seven straight regular-season conference championships. Lonergan’s CUA career includes the highest winning percentage in Cardinals basketball history. His 2000-2001 season culminated in an NCAA Division III National Championship for the Cardinals and recognition of Lonergan as National Coach of the Year. He has been recognized as Capital Athletic Conference Coach of the Year four times.
The Thomas J. Shahan Award for Service was presented to Robert F. Comstock, who earned his bachelor’s and law degrees at CUA and served as president of the National Alumni Association’s Board of Governors from 1975 through 1980. A principal in the firm of Comstock and Reilly of Washington, D.C., Comstock is a longtime member of CUA’s Board of Trustees. Working pro bono, Comstock led the legal efforts that enabled Catholic University to purchase 49 acres of property in April from the Armed Forces Retirement Home.
The President’s Award, given annually to one outstanding graduating senior, was awarded to Kathleen A. McGlynn, a member of the University Honors Program with a major in biology and minors in English and philosophy who earned a 3.91 grade point average. A member of Phi Eta Sigma National Honor Society, she also has been a member of the Capital Athletic Conference all-academic team for four years, distinguishing herself as an all-conference performer in both basketball and volleyball. She was also president of the university’s Students for Life organization.
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