President Morris, members of the Board of Trustees, the faculty and staff, the parents, thank you all for being so welcoming.
I have a quick story, since he’s here and I can embarrass him. I won a second Emmy at some point in my career and I called my youngest son—I have two sons. I said, “Guess what—I won a second Emmy for...” whatever it was for and he said, “Oh, that’s great, because now when you die we can both have one.” That is why you have children, they keep you humble and on point.
I learned so much along the way. That book Everything I Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten is not true. Every day you should learn something and my job has enabled me to learn so much from so many people. I want to bring their lessons here to you in the hopes that one or two of them will have some resonance and you can walk away from here with your great degrees and go do great things as I know you all will.
Bob Dole, I covered him in ‘96, he was a Republican who ran for president. He had what he called the three B’s of speech making which were be on time, be brief, and be seated. I will try to live up to the Bob Dole standard of how you do these things.
I wanted to start out with a story of two men who grew up in the Civil Rights era. One of them is John Lewis. If you don’t know who John Lewis is, you should look him up. He is, to me, a hero walking this earth. He was, at one point, the head of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee in the South. He was an original member of the Freedom Riders who rode through the South trying to integrate segregated bus stations. He was the leader of a march that became known as Bloody Sunday, from Selma to Montgomery. They were told to stop by State Police as they were trying to register new voters and when they kneeled down to pray the protesters were beaten. John Lewis nearly lost his life in a couple of these events. He was the keynote speaker at the March on Washington with Martin Luther King. He is the fiercest quiet man I have ever known in my life. He is quite the guy and he was always out there.
We have this piece that we do on CNN that we put up on our website and it was called “Getting to Know.” It was based on my theory that you all, when you watch TV, or have time for it, you see what we call talking heads and that’s really how you view them. They’re flat caricatures and this guy is a rabid right person and this guy is a loony left person and you don’t really know who they are. I thought what if we could just ask them questions about their life maybe we could put that up on the website, and people would say, “Well, that guy said this, and I want to go see....” Because I feel like if you could know where people came from you can understand where they are.
John Lewis came on. I’ve known him for some time and I asked, “John were you ever scared?” You were beaten, people were dying all over the South at the time of the civil rights he was fighting for. He said “No, because I knew that regardless of what happened this movement was right and this movement would go on. I wasn’t afraid.”
At another point I interviewed Herman Cain. He’s an African-American Republican from Georgia. John Lewis was a Democrat from Georgia. He ran this time around for president. In the “Getting to Know” questions, one of my producers said to me, “Did you know Herman Cain cuts his own hair?” That’s kind of interesting so I said to him, “I understand you cut your own hair.” He said, “Yes I have for 35 years.” I said “Really, why?” When Herman Cain was growing up he was one of the first African Americans to be offered to integrate schools around Atlanta. He went to his father and his father said “Well, I don’t know that you could concentrate on your studies if you become a part of this but it’s up to you. You do what you want but you have to excel.” Herman Cain chose to stay in his all-black school. He graduated with honors from high school. He went on to get a college degree. He went in to the Navy. He was a successful business man. He started Godfathers’ Pizza. He was on a Federal Reserve Board and ultimately ran for president. He told me about that part of this life and about his father and how he did not want to be a part of the class who were integrating schools. He said “When I was in the Navy I went up to Washington on assignment. I was in Virginia and I walked by a barber shop and I thought I needed a haircut. There were three black barbers. So I went in and I sat down and waited as they took customer after customer but not me. So I went up to one of the barbers and I told him that I needed to get a haircut. The black barber told me, ‘We can’t cut black hair here. You have to go to the shop on the other side of the street.’” Herman Cain walked out of that barber shop, walked into a department store down the street and bought himself a pair of shears and has been cutting his own hair ever since.
I loved both those stories because they told you so much about who these men where and how they got to be who they are and how they got to believe what they believe. From them, what I drew was to get where you want to go you first have to stand and be who you are. Both of them stood, in their own way, to be who they were to get where they got. That’s my first lesson that I pass along to you from them. The other thing that I took from that is that you do your revolution your way but you have to let other people do their revolution their way.
9/11 was a huge time, as you may know, for everybody. I think everybody went inside themselves, went where they could for some peace, some calm, some “unstressful” times. I was in the streets of New York, in the aftermath, where everyone was putting up posters. There were so many stories that you talked to people about and they all had stories particularly about why their loved one was or was not in one of those twin towers. One of the women said to me, “My husband is always in the twin towers, in his office at 8:50” which would have been after the first plane struck. “But today the cat threw up and my daughter was so upset that my husband said ‘It’s okay, the cat will be fine. We’ll clean it all up and then I’ll drive you to school.’ So he was late and was not in the building.” Someone else said to me, “We’ve lived in New York for 30 years and my husband has never been in that building but there was a friend of his, that he hasn’t seen since college, came and he wanted to see the view of New York. That’s why he was in that tower.” The more I heard those stories—everyone talked about how afraid they were after 9/11 and I realized that 9/11 made me braver because the fact is, so much of life is random, as you probably already know, but it gets even more random as you move out there.
Take control of the broad sweeps of your life and then live it unafraid. I felt like all of those people in New York taught me, as a journalist, that you move through life freely, move through it unafraid and keep going. Life will take care of itself. As we say in the news, my bottom line here is to be unafraid to live your life.
Charlie Rangel is a congressman from Harlem. He is also a Korean War veteran. He won the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart for his activities in Korea. I went to his office one day because I was doing a series in the run-up to the Gulf War about what it is like to go to war, what a young person is thinking, what that whole process is like. I said to him, “How did you win your medals?” He was caught with his unit behind enemy lines in North Korea and he lead them out and back to safety under heavy fire. I said “Wow, so you’re a hero.” He said, “The two people who were the head of the unit had died while we were there—we were under heavy fire—and so I was the de facto head of the unit. I got a compass and I had a map. I didn’t have the slightest idea where I was going but I knew if we stayed there we’d all die. So I stood up and said ‘Come on men, follow me.’ And now they call me a hero. I imagine that there are a lot of heroes out there that just went the wrong way.” From that I came to know and believe and pass along to you that heroics are in the deed, not necessarily in where it goes. You can be heroic—you are sitting next to heroes—in many ways. I think we throw that term around a lot. But I love the notion that here is this man that says, “Look, I took a guess and went left. I could have gone right and it would have ended much differently.” The deed itself is heroic. So go out and be heroic.
In the same series I talk to a man named Tom Ridgefield, a Republican from Pennsylvania, a governor. He was the first Homeland Security secretary. Tough guy—he was a Marine, fought in Vietnam. He was a grunt, not an officer; he was out there in the rice patties, in the jungles, all day long for more than a year. It was fairly horrific. He had a hard time talking to me about it. One of the sections of the stories that we did was called “What Lingers,” meaning 30, 40, 50 years past these experiences, what lingers with you when you think of this experience. I put that to Tom Ridgefield and he said to me, “It’s the nights. If you had time to think about them and you looked up into the stars; the stars were beautiful because there was no artificial illumination there. You are in the middle of nowhere so on a moonlit night it was just like dusk or dawn. It was very quiet. It was beautiful.” Find the beauty wherever you are. It is there. Sometime you have to look very hard for it.
You’ve come to this amazing place, made an amazing decision to come here. It gets a little tougher, as some of you already know, when you get out there but the fact that this Marine, in the middle of a country that he knew nothing about and couldn’t find his way out of if he had tried, what he remembers from that experience and all of that combat is how beautiful the night sky is in Vietnam. Find the beauty in what you are doing, regardless of what it is.
A couple of personal observations, that I learned from the fact that I was a single mom with a full-time job; actually I was the first single mom on air at CNN, that’s how long ago that was. Everybody asks me how I balance that. We all know where you find balance. But the truth is, how do you put that balance into action in your day-to-day life. I always thought of my life as a BOSU® ball. Standing on that ball, you achieve balance but then something does this and you have to re-achieve it. That to me is the balance of life. Balance is a transitive verb, it’s something that moves.
When I was at work, at about 3:00 my stomach started to hurt because I knew that my children were coming home and I always felt like I was at the wrong place. Like the balance is that I should be home when they were home and yet in the TV world 3:00 is about when the action starts because you’re driving for the five, six, or seven PM show. So that was always when I was the busiest and always when my children would call and it was a constant source of stress for me. I would be sitting at my desk writing a story, crashing a story, trying to get something out, and someone would answer the phone and it would be one of my children. They would call those the “Crowley Kid Calls.” So I’d get this Crowley Kid Call and I’d realize, there’s no good way to handle this balance. This is not going to make air and that’s my job, and yet this is my child and nothing is more important. I developed my own Three B plan, which is the person answering the phone would say, “Is it broken, burning or bleeding?” If the answer was no I would call them back. If it was Yes I got on the phone. Only twice did they say yes—it was a good plan. Balance is that minute-to-minute, day-to-day thing that you try to achieve.
I think that my mother used to call it the “still, small voice inside you” that tells you what to do. You all know what to do—we all do. We sometimes don’t do it, but we all know in a given situation what to do.
Push came to shove for me at one point in my career. Actually, this wasn’t all that long ago. In the summer of 2000, George Bush was running and hadn’t picked his vice president yet. We knew the week he was going to announce it. It happened to be the same week as a long-standing family reunion up in Michigan. The pressure at the office was very heavy but I opted for the family reunion—mostly because I thought that my mother would kill me—but I opted for the family reunion because I knew—that still, small voice said to me—when you’re that unsure, you know the right thing to do is to go for the personal and not for the job. In the end we came up with what I used to call my deathbed test. It was, what will I be thinking in my final hours? I was pretty sure at the time that it would not be “Dang, I wish I’d been there when George Bush announced Dick Cheney.” When all else fails, give it the death bed test—it will very fail you.
I have also learned a little bit, believe it or not, from country western music which you may or may not be familiar with. One of my favorite song’s refrain is “some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.” When I graduated from college I was 20 years old. I was engaged to a man and after he finished his college we were going to move to California. I was planning on having five boys with him. I was planning on ironing his shirts while he went to work and then at night when everyone was quiet I was going to write the great American novel. None of this happened and yet that was my dream.
You did happen, is that I can tell you about a night I spent on the rooftop of an Italian restaurant looking out over the city of Marrakesh. I can tell you about the night I slept in the Sahara on a Hillary Clinton trip. The king was there. We got up early and rode camel back to the top of the dunes to watch the sunrise over the Sahara. I’ve been to China with three different presidents.
These things were so outside the framework of my ability to dream. So while I wish your dreams to come true, I also want to tell you that your best life may be in the undreamed. So watch for the undreamed.
I did end up marrying a man I loved very much and we had two boys but sometimes it seemed like 10 so we were good. Again it was my “undream” and I am so happy it came true.
You know this—be honest. One of the things that I think makes relationships, whether it’s with your children, your spouse, your friends, your parents. I used to say to my children all the time, “I will go to the barricades for you but I’ve got to know I have the true story because the minute I find out it’s not the true story I can’t ever go to the barricades again because that faith is broken.” Don’t just be honest; you have to demand honesty in your life. It’s not always easy to do; it’s easier to hear a lie sometimes but your relationships are better if you both give honesty and demand honesty.
My final point—which is my all-time favorite and which has so enriched my life, and if they said tell them one thing, this is what I would have told you—to that, since there are 37 countries represented here, people from all over—if you are not a basketball fan, I need to give you a definition. A point guard is the player who is responsible for directing a basketball team’s attack; he’s leading the advance. With that in mind, in the last election I had a very rough time. I was not happy. I thought, in what was being asked of me—I used my youngest son as a sounding board and I would call him often in tears, which mothers shouldn’t do but I did—and I was so convinced that I could not continue with journalism any more, I was worried about what it became. I said, “I can’t do this, because....” He’d say, “But Mom, you’re this kind of journalist—do that....” And I’d say, “I can’t because they’ll say this and then I do that and they and this and I just don’t know what to do and everything’s....” He would sort of always walk me off the edge of the cliff. Then one night we had one of those conversations and I was so sure that I could not be who I wanted to be in the environment that I was in. It was weighing on me heavily and it was weighing on my work, I thought, and that worried me even more. I got a text message, and here’s what the text message said: “Mom, remember, it’s like being a point guard. Run your offense the way you run it. Don’t let them take you out of your game.”
I congratulate you. Go out there and be point guards.