To the Senior Class Council, Board of Regents, professors, staff, alumni and parents:
Thank you for your warm introduction and for inviting me to return home to CU for the tremendous privilege and honor of speaking to you today!
HELLO CU, HELLO CLASS OF ‘22!
Yes...I know I committed a cardinal Buff sin a few months ago on-line.
It's SKO BUFFS now, not GO BUFFS!
Thank you for all the good-hearted tweets and emails urging me to get with the times!
LOOK at where you are!
STAND UP - Turn around - Look at this place and this time!
Wave to your parents who got you here … and who are so, so proud and happy….that they’ve written the last tuition check!
Keep smiling and waving, since you’ll need them to keep paying your cell phone bill for a while.
But for just a moment, RIGHT NOW PUT THE PHONE DOWN and LOOK at that blue sky, those Flatirons, this stadium that holds 100 years of history.
After four years of HARD WORK - Maybe Five or Six years – who’s counting?
You made it!
BREATHE THIS IN AND REMEMBER THIS.
The most beautiful campus in America!
It’s why I brought my wife, Astrid, with me.
Originally from Belgium, she went to college there.
And my daughters are also here - Charlotte and Chloe.
I TRIED! I tried to convince them to go to CU, but they went to college out east.
But Chancellor DiStefano, can we make them honorary Buffs today?
(Without me writing a check?)
It is a great privilege to be asked to share this moment of YOUR success with all of you, your friends, your families, your classmates, your roommates.
You will remember and cherish this day for the rest of your life.
We have all been through a historically challenging two years.
But for you, this campus and this city …. Navigating through a pandemic, studying remotely, coming together after a mass shooting, caring for each other during horrific fires that destroyed 1,000 homes!
Very few communities or campuses have gone through so much in such a short period of time.
You exemplify tenacity, kindness, selflessness, and community!
Colorado has noticed and I’ll tell you - as I now live in Washington, DC, the country has noticed!
So, on behalf of the entire alumni network – we salute you – students, faculty, and staff – for all you have accomplished, your perseverance, and the examples you have set. You’ve made us all proud!
And if you don’t mind, Covid also kept my daughter, Chloe, from having an in-person college graduation after 4-years of hard work.
So, since she’s now an honorary Buff …. Chloe …. Welcome to your graduation!!!!
(just gotta teach her the fight song!)
Now, I know what you’re thinking … you just sat through four years of lectures ….and now you gotta sit through one more lecture before you can grab your diploma.
But here’s the deal:
These folks up here promised me I’d get more than the 2-minutes I typically get for a report on the Today Show or NBC Nightly News….
“Take all the time you’d like, they said.”
So I’m running with it!
What do I remember from my commencement speaker at the Events Center?
Well, It was Robert Redford, the Academy Award-winning actor who also went to CU!
True story: 20 years later, I was at the NBC studios in New York.
I looked over and realized I was standing next to him in the men’s room …. Doing what men do.
“Hey, You were my commencement speaker…..I know you!”
(I did not say)
I promise you, for the rest of your lives, when you meet new friends, co-workers, neighbors … certainly if you live in another state … people will ask you where you went to college.
And when you say CU, you will always hear the same response:
“Ooooooohhhhhh, I wanted to go to CU too…” they will tell you.
But as we gather here today – I am so mindful that we are all in the presence of GIANTS - past and present!
145-years of GIANTS in academics, science, literature, entertainment, medicine, politics, sports, the military, law, journalism….people who have changed this school, this state, the country, and the world.
So if you’re both excited and terrified about this day and what comes next – you’re in good company! So were all of those giants.
And yet look what they did…what they believed in and built and fought for.
And so will you!
Sitting among you right now … are people who will make both profound and subtle changes in the coming decades.
Discovering a cure for cancer, developing a hit TV show, composing a new orchestra piece, writing beautiful poetry, or making a difference in a child’s life, or taking a stand to protect the most vulnerable, leading men and women in uniform, inventing the smart phone or cars, cleaning our air and oceans, or saving a life in an ICU.
The possibilities are endless. Big and Small.
So while this moment in your life may be a bit intimidating right now …. EMBRACE it!
You have unlimited possibilities and very few obligations to hold you back!
This is the time to BE BOLDER!
So I thought I’d share with you a few of the risks that I took over the years that paid off.
And yes, you’ll probably have to start at the bottom of the career ladder.
But chances are, you won’t start any lower than I did!
Look underneath your feet - right over there in the bleacher section!
I started DOWN THERE!
Our student TV studio was beneath those bleachers, down a long hallway, tucked into a dark corner.
We all learned how to do interviews, write and edit our stories, run the cameras, get IN FRONT of the camera and read the breaking CU News!
We had typewriters, not computers.
No one on campus had a cell phone yet.
And none of us had ever heard of the internet.
SPAM? That was cheap, canned meat some of us lived off.
But it was there … down that dark hallway in a makeshift studio that I made CU TV history.
I dropped my first ON-AIR F-BOMB.
My first and LAST on-air F-bomb!
Thank God I learned my lesson with a cable TV audience of roughly 2-dozen people!
And it was Boulder … so most folks here had heard an F- bomb before!
For years, Professor Steve Jones used a recording of that on-air flub as blackmail material to lure me back to campus to talk to journalism students.
But it was a very good, early lesson:
Someone is always listening and watching. Always!
When I graduated, I landed my first local TV reporting job in El Paso, TX … 650-miles due south on I-25.
It was GREAT!
I barely made enough money to pay my rent and eat… but I got the chance to cut my teeth, reporting from both sides of the U.S./Mexico border.
And it was there that I read a magazine article about a legendary network news correspondent based in Washington who reported every day for the Today Show and NBC Nightly News.
His name was Robert Hagar. Remember that name.
“That’s the job I want some day…” I thought.
That’s my goal!
But I had a long way to go.
23-years old, barely getting by in El Paso.
I needed some experience in a much bigger city.
So, when 9NEWS in Denver offered me a 3-month try-out…. I jumped at it!
There were no guarantees.
If it didn't work out, I’d be out of a job in three months.
But coming home to Colorado was a risk worth taking.
Three months turned into six years …. A great gig working for the best local TV news operation in the country.
But after six years, I was starting to think that my dream of becoming a network news correspondent wasn’t going to work out.
Along the way, my wife and I had gotten married.
And, as I mentioned, she’s from Belgium.
So, we decided to take another risk:
I’d always wanted to live in Europe and always wanted to go to grad school.
So I quit my job at 9NEWS, we sold our house near Wash Park and moved to Brussels where I started grad school at the age of 31…. Studying international business.
My friends at channel 9 thought I was crazy!
I was one of the top reporters at a top station and I was going to just quit and move to Europe???!!!
But I figured what did we have to lose?
And as It turns out - TIMING is often as important as courage.
Because the very same month I left for Europe, the man who ran channel 4 in Denver moved to London to run NBC-Europe.
So, I started lobbying him for a job.
Sure enough, the night before my last grad school final in Brussels, CNBC Cable News called and offered me a job as their London anchor.
Exciting! A little scary and another BIG RISK!
New country, new city, new job, and we had a brand new baby!
A lot of stress!
But we went for it.
2 years in London, then 6 years in New York for CNBC covering the stock market, traveling the world doing documentaries.
And yet I still had that dream of becoming a network correspondent.
I had to DO something to make that dream become a reality.
Which led me to pull a rather gutsy, audacious move at a charity event in New York City that I was asked to attend.
CNBC and NBC were sharing a table.
The front office had carefully arranged who would sit where.
When I arrived early I saw that I’d be sitting at the table with Brian Williams, the new anchor of NBC Nightly News.
But his name card was on the OTHER side of the table.
This was my chance, I thought. But I’m on the wrong side of table!
So I very slyly walked around the table and slid my name card in front of the plate next to his …. Replacing an NBC vice president’s name.
A few minutes later, Brian showed up…and did a double take, wasn’t sure what happened to the seating arrangement.
Then, halfway through dinner I said to him: “So, what does it take to get on your radar?”
“Oh, You’re on it now,” he said.
I’m pretty sure he’d figured out who did the swap.
A few months later, Brian intervened, and I moved from CNBC to the NBC NEWS mothership in New York.
….Reporting for Nightly News and the Today Show.
And I thought it couldn’t get any better …. Until a few months later, when Tim Russert called me, the legendary MTP anchor and Washington bureau chief.
Tim told me Robert Hagar was retiring.
Remember that name?
The very same network correspondent who I’d read about in El Paso 15 years earlier.
Would I be interested in moving to Washington to take the very job that I said I wanted when I was just starting out?
Yes! I can be there by noon!
My dream had come full circle.
… after taking a few risks along the way and a rather cheeky move at a dinner in New York.
And now, we’ve been in Washington for 17-years.
Actually, Today it has come full circle because I’m back at Folsom stadium … only I’m standing ON TOP of the bleachers, not in a dark hallway down below.
MY GOAL, when I started my career, was to see the world, to SEARCH FOR TRUTH and FACTS ….on someone else’s credit card.
To learn every day from the world's experts on any given topic.
As you know, your degree doesn’t suggest you know it all.
It says you KNOW HOW TO LEARN.
…How to investigate, contemplate and search for answers.
For FACTS, for Truth!
…Whether in a science lab or a poli-sci class, student-teaching a struggling 4th grader, or peering into a telescope at the night sky.
And no matter what profession you choose, that will surely continue.
Your bosses will demand honesty and accountability.
And one day YOU will demand that of the people who work for you.
The career I chose when I left CU is about holding our government, our elected officials, our communities ACCOUNTABLE to the democracy!
To the truth and the facts…no matter how uncomfortable or inconvenient.
The greatest intellectual exercise we face every day is to wake up in the morning determined to start again with an open mind, to listen to all slides, and help the audience find the truth through facts, context and perspective.
That’s not easy when the national discourse is often so contaminated with disinformation, falsehoods and viral tweets that assume the worst of people.
Think about your professors and classroom discussions during your time at CU.
The best professors - those who really make you think - are often those who you may not really agree with.
But the way they said something - made you re-think your preconceived ideas …. And maybe dig deeper for answers.
Maybe it forced you to question something you thought you knew the answer to.
Despite Thomas Payne advocating for Common Sense at the start of the American Revolution, one of my CU professors once said “No political party has ever had a monopoly on Common Sense, and it’s often in short supply all around!”
AND THIS IS WHERE IT’S ABOUT YOU!
WE NEED YOU!
As a society, we’ve become so intolerant of each other – screaming each other down in public forums, airports and planes … trying to gaslight or humiliate anyone who doesn’t agree with us.
Even when those same people are the people we turn to in our everyday lives.
When you call 911, do you ask the arriving firefighters who they voted for before they attack the fire?
When the ER doctor says a family member needs emergency surgery, do you question their motives based on their party affiliations?
No, we presume people are acting in good faith - as our neighbors, as fellow Americans.
And if the facts on the ground change, if the diagnosis changes, if the fire grows larger, we expect the response will also change.
I’ve met and interviewed many of the NIH, CDC and FDA researchers who barely took a day off for two YEARS as they responded to the Covid Crisis….learning about a new and evolving threat and changing their approach as the months progressed.
They made mistakes, they stumbled, they course-corrected and kept at it.
And today, we have them and their remarkable vaccines to thank for allowing all of us to gather here today!
It’s time we listen to each other!
Assume the best of each other, not the worst!
We need to hear each other out and re-think our own pre-conceived ideas and convictions. None of us has all the answers!
Give each other the benefit of the doubt….that the other person also wants what’s best for the country, their community, their kids, their husband or wife.
Abraham Lincoln appealed to the “Better Angels of our Nature.”
Today, there’s a bipartisan group that has taken on that name and added “Braver Angels” - working to de-polarize our national discourse.
The free CIVIL exchange of ideas is what makes this country stand as an example to the world.
As someone who has spent a career trying to listen to all sides - I’ve always been drawn more to those who speak in commas, question marks, and caveats …. than screaming exclamation points!
You are graduating from a top university that for four years has encouraged you to study, to learn, to explore and to come to fact-based conclusions.
Regardless of your major, you’ve earned a FACT-BASED degree.
Physics Grads - let me hear you:
Newton's three laws of motion are Law of Inertia, Law of Mass and Acceleration, and the Third Law of Motion.
Music Grads: How many notes are in an octave?
Eight! It’s a fact!
OK, Twelve for all you jazzers!
Chemistry and Biology Grads:
Atoms are made of protons, electrons and neutrons!
History Grads - The Declaration of Independence pronounces:
“We find these TRUTHS to be self-evident that all men (and women) are created….EQUAL.”
AND CIVILITY MATTERS!
“With Malice Towards None and Charity for All” - as Lincoln said about the need to re-build after the civil war.
Our social media culture – the way we talk to and about each other starts with us.
So let’s change things…you and me!
Enough of the online rants, profanity, body shaming, racism, antisemitism, and misogynistic garbage.
Of right versus left or up versus down.
If we change things – we will unlock the vast potential of your generation and of the entire country.
If we don’t start this, who will?
Now, as you start your post-CU life, allow me to offer a few SECRETS TO SUCCESS, in whatever you do:
Kindness, Respect, and Outreach!
Almost everyone is thinking about themselves 90% of the time.
That’s human nature.
So get into the other person’s 90%, acknowledge them, listen to them, compliment them, make them feel valued and special.
As my old boss, the late Tim Russert, used to say: “Nothing is better for the human soul than reaching down and picking someone else up.”
I had the great privilege of being invited to an evening with Nelson Mandella in Switzerland when he was President of South Africa.
After being held prisoner for 27 years by the White Apartheid government, he was making an appeal to the White South Africans who had left the country to return - to help rebuild the country. Together.
It was an astonishing moment of forgiveness…extending a hand of peace.
Advocate for peace, for kindness, but also for honesty and truth…whatever you do.
They form the bedrock of an open, democratic society and workplace.
Never stop learning and Work Hard!
Show up to work 15 minutes early and leave 15 minutes late!
Don’t expect the participation medal you got for playing soccer as a kid….from here on out, you gotta earn it!
Make yourself indispensable because your work stands out above all others.
Most people are afraid to hurt your feelings so they won’t give you brutally honest feedback. You gotta do your own HONEST self-appraisals.
Share the credit with others, but accept the responsibility for failures.
Think before you tweet…and then, don’t tweet!
Put the phone down and take in the REAL WORLD around you.
Live life at full throttle!
Sing like Phoebe.
Dance like Ross.
Flirt like Joey and Rachel.
Love like Chandler and Monica
Take Risks! BE Bolder!
You’ll rack up some scars, wrinkles, gray hair, and an occasional bruised ego.
But LIFE IS ABOUT THE JOURNEY more than the destination.
Do good, be generous, try not to drop the F-bomb when you’re on TV.
And when you come back to this great campus over the years with your own kids … and you stare at the inscription over Norlin Library …. I promise the words will take on greater and greater meaning:
“Who knows, only his own generation remains always a child.”
NEVER FORGET THIS MOMENT, THIS PLACE!
…..THE PLACE THAT LAUNCHED YOU.
I never have!
And speaking to you here today is truly one of the greatest honors of my lifetime.
SKO CU 22!