Fordham’s Class of 2011 received a sunny sendoff on May 21 at the Rose Hill campus with an address from NBC anchor Brian Williams that was by turns comic and heartfelt.
Noting that the ceremonial diploma he received on the steps of Keating Hall was blank, Williams said, “Your diplomas are blank, too, regardless of what’s written in them. You have to fill them in with the love and work of a lifetime.”
Williams, the award-winning anchor of NBC Nightly News, received a doctorate of humane letters, honoris causa, at the ceremony. Alex Trebek, host ofJeopardy!; philanthropist Glorya Kaufman; award-winning actress Marian Seldes; and Steven E. Sanderson, president and chief executive officer of the Wildlife Conservation Society, were also awarded honorary doctorates.
More than 15,000 graduates, family members, faculty members and administrators packed Edwards Parade—lush and sparkling after a week of drenching rains—to celebrate beneath soft blue skies at the University’s 166th Commencement. The crowd roared with approval when Williams’ and Trebek’s names were called out, and punctuated Williams’ address with cheers and applause.
Williams noted that in this country trains still travel at the same speed they did when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt came to Fordham. He lamented the decline of infrastructure in New York City and the United States, and the shrinking of the space program, then exhorted students to do better.
“This city—our country—has to be a shining beacon,” Williams said. “We need to make sure this place shines. You have a first-class diploma from a first-class institution. I envy you: you have a head start.
“I got as lucky as a kid gets growing up in this country, and that’s the only reason I am standing here talking to you today,” Williams told the audience. “I have 18 community college credits to my name, and I dropped out of every college on that list. I got my working papers at 14 … and I worked at any job that would pay me.”
Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham, told graduates that they did not attend an ivory tower university.
“Far from it. You attended a school located at the crossroads of the world, in the capital of the world. And you made good use of your time here. … You tested the lessons that you learned in the classroom against the insights that you gained from your non-credit course on the sociology of the subway and your community service.
“Therefore, my friends, you emerge from your Fordham experience with minds that are quick and supple and with hearts that are tender and compassionate,” Father McShane said. “Formed by the lessons that you learned here, go forth now and set the world on fire.”