Emory Report
May 31, 2005
Volume 57, Number 31


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May 31, 2005
Emory sends off next generation of grads

BY eric rangus

The more than 3,400 members of Emory’s graduating Class of 2005 represent the best and brightest of their generation. On the sunny morning of Monday, May 16, they received their degrees and were addressed by a master chronicler of generations both present and past.

Tom Brokaw, anchor of the NBC Nightly News for more than two decades and a best-selling author on the side, delivered the keynote address at Emory’s 160th Commencement. The University-wide gathering on the Quadrangle, followed by individual school diploma ceremonies across campus, marked the final day of Emory’s five-day graduation celebration. Paired for the second year with Emory Weekend, the Association for Emory Alumni’s year-end jamboree, Commencement brought thousands of parents, graduates (both new and old), special guests and friends to campus.

“The name Tom Brokaw evokes for millions of Ameri-cans the virtue of integrity in news reporting,” said master of ceremonies President Jim Wagner. “Mr. Brokaw represents all that is right and good about journalism—the persistent digging for the facts, tough-minded analysis of reality, the clear reporting of important stories, and the fair and unbiased presentation of a witness to our time.”

Clocking in at more than 22 minutes, Brokaw’s was the longest commencement speech at Emory in several years. And one of the largest audiences in years (to go along with 3,423 students, one of the largest classes in years) came out to hear him.

Brokaw had a little more time to work with because, for the first time since 2000, the ceremony featured just one address. (During the last four years, each honorary degree recipient was given a chance to step to the microphone.)

Regardless of length, not a word of Brokaw’s address (see Brokaw speech) was wasted as he touched on themes as wide-ranging as chili dogs at The Varsity and the sacrifices of the millions men and women who came of age during the Great Depression and fought the Axis in World War II—Americans he has dubbed “The Greatest Generation.”

Brokaw, who has won every major award in broadcast journalism, warned graduates about what to watch for after they put away their caps and gowns and enter life after college.
“You have been hearing all of your life that this occasion is a big step into what is called ‘The Real World,’” said Brokaw, who retired from his anchor post in December. “Ladies and gentlemen of the Class of 2005 at Emory, real life is not college. Real life is not high school. Here is a secret that no one has told you: Real life is junior high.

“The world you are about to enter is filled with junior high, adolescent pettiness, pubescent rivalries, the insecurities of 13-year-olds, and the false bravado of 14-year-olds.”

While his national news job took him across the globe, Brokaw spent some of his formative years in Georgia and he reminisced about his days as a news anchor at Atlanta’s WSB-TV in the 1960s. A native of South Dakota, he said the position gave him a crash course in Southern culture and cuisine—particularly the legendary Varsity on North Avenue—but most importantly he saw what he called “the defining moral struggle of our time”: the civil rights movement.

Brokaw saved perhaps his most poignant words for the end of his address, when he shared the story of a previous generation that first survived the Great Depression then fought a World War, yet its members were no older than the graduates gathered on the Quadrangle.

“When that war was over, this generation of Americans your age returned to their homes or established new communities,” Brokaw said. “Some are here today in their distinctive gold robes,” Brokaw said, acknowledging the members of Corpus Cordis Aureum, members of the Classes of 1955 and before, who were seated up front. “I call them The Greatest Generation. They asked so little of us, and yet we owe them so much. Remember them as you put the mark of greatness on your generation.”

Mixed in among the conferring of degrees was the awarding of honorary degrees. Provost Earl Lewis presented Brokaw with Doctor of Humane Letters degree. Also awarded honorary degrees were Oxford University administrator Lord Robin Butler, nursing scholar Sue Hegyvary (’66N), former law school Dean Ben Johnson Jr. (’36C, ’40L), and Atlanta businessman Thomas Cousins.