Meredith Vieira: 2015 Boston University Commencement Speaker

Meredith Vieira: 2015 Boston University Commencement Speaker

October 26, 2019 2 By Stanley Isaacs


I now call upon Meredith Vieira to deliver the 142nd Commencement
address of Boston University. Members of the Class of 2015, parents,
President Brown, trustees, honored guests, faculty, friends… How cool is this?! This is pretty cool, right?! I only wish there had been gin in my bottle instead of water, but
hey… And I know what was in yours! Alright… I find it so fitting that Boston
University started out as a school of theology because today parents are
saying, “Thank you, God! We thought this day
might never come.” After years of hard work and sacrifice they sit here behind you clutching their
tissues while beaming with pride, and all they
want in return is a simple hug and “I love you, Mom, Dad. Thanks.” My youngest, Lily, graduates from
Northwestern in a few weeks and that’s all I want. So this is a good
day to show your parents how much you really appreciate them and hit them up for a loan while they’re
still vulnerable. Do that. It’ll work I didn’t attend BU, but I believe my
presence here today is kismet. Let me explain. Last February,
after six long years and one Blizzard delay, the Terriers took back what is
rightfully theirs: the Bean Pot. Alright, here’s the kismet part. When
my mother was a little girl, she had a Boston Terrier named “Beans.” When I was a little girl, I was forced to
eat franks and beans every Saturday and they made me sick to
my stomach, which is exactly how I feel right now.
Kismet. You see, I don’t normally give speeches, especially ones which require offering advice and inspiration. I’m more
your mother than I am Mother Teresa. Just the thought
of standing up here gave me such agita that I originally said no.
But the person asking me was my dear friend and illustrious BU grad, Andy Lack,
the new Chairman of NBC News and MSNBC. So in the end, I couldn’t resist. And by the way, I fully intend to remind
him of this in a few months when my contract comes up for renewal
because at sixty-one, I need the job security. So here I stand a nervous wreck, worried I’ll say the wrong thing, you’re
going to end up years from now drowning your sorrows at Tavern in the Square… …wondering, “Where’d we go wrong? Oh yeah, it all started with that damn commencement speech.” Or perhaps even more humiliating, you
won’t remember the speech at all, much less who gave it. But that’s the
future, this is now, and if I’m nervous, maybe you
are, too. Maybe you’re anxious about what comes next, feeling the pressure to have all the answers, to get it right right out of the box.
Listen, you do not know what’s about to hit you.
And that’s the great thing about life. How boring with the journey be if you
already knew for sure the final destination? Listen, you’re Terriers. When terriers go for
a car ride, they don’t know where they’re going. They don’t care where they’re
going. They stick their head out the window,
they let the wind rush over them, and they enjoy the ride. That’s faith. Faith is taking the first step
even when you don’t see the whole staircase. I never intended to become a broadcaster. It wasn’t even on my radar screen. When I was a senior in college, I was a
lost English major. I think that’s the same thing, right? Um,
really didn’t know what I was going to do. My mother had actually sent me to secretarial school, Katie Gibbs, the summer before because she said you’re not coming home no matter what. But I took a course my
senior year, January, in radio broadcasting a few months
before graduation. A visiting professor from CBS News after
hearing my voice on tape pulled me aside, and to my utter disbelief,
told me I had a future in broadcast journalism, and offered me
an internship at WEEI when it used to be an all news
radio station. For whatever reason, mostly because no
one ever told me that I would amount to anything basically, I
said, “Yeah, okay.” I took the first step, albeit blindly, and it put me on the path to where I am
today. So if you haven’t found a job or
decided on a career path yet, don’t freak out. Don’t let fear or
frustration, or the fact that others around you seem
to be all set immobilize you. But do, from this day
forward, open yourself up possibilities you
might never have considered. Step up. Step out of your comfort zone.
Consider saying “yes” even when “no” feels much safer. I’m not
suggesting that it’s going to be easy. Your journey forward comes with some
built-in stumbling blocks. When that radio internship ended, the
News Director kept me on as his secretary– thank you, Katherine Gibbs–for a few
months while I tried to figure out my next move. A short stint reading news headlines at
a top 40 station in Worcester made me question what I was doing and why. And then came the offer to be a weekend
television reporter at WJAR in Providence, Rhode Island, my hometown. It didn’t matter that I had
no on-air experience. It was 1976 and I filled a quota. Women and African-Americans were suddenly in hot demand. That is, until we were
hired and then almost no one rooted for us to
succeed. I learned pretty quickly that the only
way to gain respect would be to out work everyone
else, to actually earn what I felt I was
entitled to. That ethic has served me well and I highly
recommend it. The fact is, your generation also has and entitlement problem. Fairly or not, a
large number of businesses don’t want to hire you because they
perceive you to be self-entitled, lazy, high maintenance, and disloyal. As a
mother of three twenty-somethings and host a show where 30% of the
staff are millennials, I know thats bull. I have met some kids who are full of
themselves, but numbskulls span all generations, trust me. Most of
the young people I know are incredibly hard-working and extremely motivated. As for loyalty, it’s a two-way street. Used to be you worked for
a company for fifty years before retiring with the send-off dinner and a
fancy gold watch. Somewhere along the way, employers began to see their employees as replaceable widgets. Maybe you’ve seen
it happen to your mom or dad. Maybe you seen them struggle to balance
home life with an inflexible work environment. Maybe you want
something more, and I don’t blame you. Companies can’t
expect your loyalty unless they inspire it. [Applause] However, you’re not off the hook. There is still no substitute for hard
work and humility, and if you want to get your foot in the
door, it helps to get your fingers off the smartphones, look people in the eye, engage. You want people to actually like
you and not just give you “likes.” Ultimately… those are the parents
applauding… Ultimately, your future is in the hands
humans, not electronic devices. Unless of course,
people like Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, and Steve Wozniack are right
about artificial intelligence, in which case we’ll all end up family
pets to some android. As for you graduates who already know what you’re doing next, who have it all mapped out, don’t be so sure. Life is famous for
throwing curveballs when you least expect them. My first big one came on a Friday
afternoon. After about a year at WJAR, I decided, “You
know what? Journalist might really be for me.” I was
happily typing up a story when my News Director called me into his office, told me I didn’t have what it takes, and
fired me. I drove to my family’s home, flung myself
dramatically across my bed, and sobbed. And that’s how my dad found
me. When I explained what had happened, he
asked me one question: “Do you think you have what it takes?” I
said, “Yes,” to which he replied, “Then it doesn’t
matter what anyone else says. There will always be
people putting you down, always be people rooting for you to fail.”
The following Monday I went back to work and I confronted that little weasel, I mean, my News Director, and I told him I plan to succeed no
matter what he thought. I may have also pinned him up against
the wall–like I said, he was little. But he gave me my job back on the spot,
and that’s great that he did, but that’s not the point in the story. The point is, you have to believe in
yourself or no one else will. In order to swim, you have to drown out the naysayers. You’re all smart, right? Or you wouldn’t be here today. I imagine you all strive for success and
will undoubtedly find it. But when you do, you just may discover
does nothing to do with how much money you make, how big a house to live in, or how
prestigious your job might sound to someone else. I thought I’d found
success in 1989 when after several years in the
business I arrived at 60 Minutes. I just had our first son Ben and this
was the only job I’d ever truly coveted. I quickly became the media’s poster
woman for having it all. Except for one thing, the only thing I
had was a constant knot in my stomach. When I was traveling the
world covering stories, I literally ached for my child. When I was home, I
felt guilty not hanging around the corridors of CBS
and chatting up my boss Don Hewitt. Eventually something had to
give. I became pregnant with our second son
Gabe, and Don and I immediately butted heads over which baby should take precedence.
His baby, 60 Minutes, on mine? I remember sitting across from
him when I suddenly had a flashback. Several years earlier while still single
and working my way up the ladder, I had grabbed drinks with a seasoned and
respected female producer. After probably one too many, she confided in
me that her biggest regret was never marrying or having children.
Something she could not admit publicly. It just wouldn’t look good,
but she had given everything for her job including herself. Flash forward, Don probably thought I’d had one too many
when I abruptly ended our heated conversation. I believe the words I uttered as I walked
out the door were, “I’m outta here.” Not very mature, but that
night I slept like a baby as the knot in my
stomach unraveled. The fallout was fast incoming. On the one side, I had people, mostly women, who were furious with me for destroying
their dream of having it all. For setting back the cause of feminism. On
the other side were those who called me brave for taking a stand for motherhood. In fact, neither entered my thinking when
I quit. I left because it was the right decision
for me and me alone. [Applause] There’s a reason I’ve always loved
Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken,” because I think he was onto something.
Following the road less traveled really does mean making all the
difference. Heck, I’m still forging my own way trying to balance work and family.
Throughout your life, you’ll have to set your own priorities,
make your own decisions, and they won’t always be the best or the
brightest ones, but that’s how you learn and come to understand who you really
are and what matters to you. I have to tell you, I’ve
known plenty of people who have sacrificed their values for instant
gratification. Do that enough, and you will lose yourself.
Only authenticity will keep your head on straight and your feet firmly planted, so don’t
strive for somebody else’s notion of perfection. It’s an unattainable and ultimately
ridiculous goal. Strive instead to be uniquely
yourself. And when in doubt, listen to your gut
because it already knows what you want to become. We are so
condition, all of us, to think in terms of the big job, the big salary, in the case of journalism, the big scoop,
that we sometimes forget to see the big picture. That came into focus
for me on the campus of another college, Virginia Tech, just days after the tragic
shooting there in 2007. A co-host of the Today Show at the time, I
was part of the team sent to cover the story. It was during a
campus candlelight vigil for the 32 victims when a young coed in tears approached me an asked if I would hold her. She was scared and she
needed a parent’s embrace because her family was so far from Virginia Tech at that point, and I had come into your home every
morning, I was the closest thing available to her in that moment. As it
turned out we held each other and we cried together and it was an
incredibly humbling experience for me because I realized what it means to be a journalist. It’s
not about the big scoop. It’s about giving people a voice, connecting with human beings, and caring
about somebody other than yourself. I think I’m preaching to the choir here I think I am preaching to the choir here because in the past four years we’ve all
learned a great deal about perspective, both in and outside the classroom. You
lost 10 fellow students in one calendar year. That’s not supposed to
happen. It goes against the natural order things. It’s never easy to face the
fragility of life… easy to face the fragility of life, and you’ve
been forced to confront it at a very young age. And as painful as it is, you leave this university
understanding better than most that every day truly is a blessing never
to be squandered are taken for granted. It was a BU
graduate student, Lu Lingzi, who lost her life along with two other innocent
people on a beautiful April day in your sophomore year while simply watching the Boston Marathon. I
doubt you will ever forget where you were when those two backpacks exploded a few miles
from here and knocked a city to its knees. But the
initial hurt an horror gave way to something much more powerful: Boston Strong. You held each other for support and rose
back up together. I may live in New York, but our city was a sea of Boston baseball caps in the weeks
that followed, and the Red Sox clinched the World
Series that fall, the entire nation cheered. [Applause] Yes, you bore witness to the worst to mankind,
but you also experienced the best, and will carry that with you forever. You
learned what it means to be resilient, to stand side by side against any
adversity, you are part of Boston Strong and it will always be part of you. So now
you’re off, and I have a few final words of practical advice. Don’t ever lose your enthusiasm. Don’t
suddenly become self-conscious. Don’t be that person who puts on a suit
and takes off his glasses like this mid-sentence because he thinks it makes him look
smart. Trust me, unless you’re the incredible Ed Bradley–CBS correspondent
Ed Bradley–who was really cool, or maybe a TV lawyer… It looks good for
them, with everyone else it’s just affect. Stay away from affects. Better yet, be the left shark. Remember last Super Bowl when
the Patriots won? Yeah, well… well you may be thinking of Tom
Brady’s deflated balls right now, but I’m thinking a Katy Perry’s half-time performance. She was on stage
dancing with two sharks. The shark on the right knew every dance
move and performed perfectly, but it was the left shark, the one who went
rogue and danced to his own crazy beat who stole the show. So don’t ever be a
conformist for convenience sake. Or as Mark Twain put it, “Whenever you
find yourself on the side of majority, it’s time to pause and reflect.” Be the left shark! By the way, you can purchase that on Ebay
tonight. And while I’m on the subject of water
creatures, there’s an expression they use a lot in
the news business, “If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck,
then it’s probably a duck. Unless it has been auto-corrected, and then we’re all ducked.” The message here, pretty simple, life isn’t all that
complicated. Things are what they are. Don’t read into everything. Just do your
best and try to do no harm. So here are my hopes for you
graduates: When you take off your cap and gown
today, I sincerely hope you have clothes on underneath, but I also hope you realize that just
learning to navigate college fosters a quality that social scientists call
“grit.” It means when you fall down, and you will,
you will dust yourself off and keep going. As you travel through life, I hope you the deep footprints
behind. Not as a result of all the people you’ve
stepped on to get ahead, but rather as a result of all the lives
you have lifted along the way. And twenty or thirty years from now, I hope you sitting where your family is today, clutching tissues and beaming with pride,
remembering your own graduation and thinking, “You know that commencement speaker wasn’t half wrong. Whatever her name was…” Congratulations and good luck!