Hear award-winning journalist Tom Brokaw’s full speech to the 2016 graduating class at Ole Miss.


We have a tradition of bringing nationally
and internationally renowned leaders to campus for our commencement addresses and this year
is certainly no exception. It’s my pleasure to welcome one of America’s most familiar
and trusted journalists, the seasoned broadcaster and author who helped a generation of Americans
feel like they had a front-row seat for the biggest events of the day. During Tom Brokaw’s tenure as anchor NBC Nightly
News became the most-watched daily news program in America and, whether he was dissecting
policy with world leaders or talking about earthquake survivors and their harrowing experiences
he approached his assignments with the same Midwestern level headedness that made everyone
feel at ease with him. The oldest of three boys Tom Brokaw grew up in South Dakota where
his parents were a construction foreman and a post office clerk. The family moved around
for several years before settling down and Yanktown where Tom attended high school and
served as governor of American Legion Boys State. He studied political science at the
University of South Dakota and then started his TV career at Sioux City before moving
on to stations in Omaha in Atlanta and then the Los Angeles where he joined NBC News in
1966. NBC made Tom Brokaw the network�s Washington
correspondent in 1973, dropping him right in to cover the Watergate scandal and other
major stories of the day. From 1976 to 1982 he hosted the popular today’s show greeting
millions of Americans each morning with the news and his signature insights and in 1983
he became the anchor of NBC Nightly News, a spot he held for a remarkable 22 years.
During his tenure he reported live on the fall of the Berlin Wall and on the aftermath
of the Loma Prieta earthquake in California. He covered the explosion of the shuttle Challenger
and the devastation of Hurricane Andrew and he conducted the first one-on-one Western
interviews with soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Not surprisingly Tom Brokaw has won every
major award in broadcast journalism including two Duponts, three Peabody Awards, and a shelf
full of Emmys. In 2014, he was awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedo. Since leaving the anchor
chair he has done documentaries for the discover Discovery Channel and History Channel and
hosted the baseball documentary series The Boys in the Hall for Fox Sports Net. But his
gift for storytelling is not limited to the broadcast medium. He is also an acclaimed
author. He is best known for The Greatest Generation, profiling the courageous men and
women who grew up during the Great Depression, went off to help
win world war two, and then came home to transform for all our country into
the greatest nation on earth. His other books have chronicled other decades and their memorable
characters but his latest book is his most personal. In A Lucky Life Interrupted: A Memoir
of Hope, Tom takes us behind the scenes for his
battle with blood cancer and reflects on a long and happy life. He’s a good friend of
the University of Mississippi too. Tom Brokaw was here for the first presidential debate
between President Barack Obama and challenger John McCain and he returned the following
year as a guest lecturer. He’s been a frequent visitor to our campus doing all the way back
to the year 2000, sometimes enjoy a morning bike ride around the circle or taking in a
baseball or football game with his old pal Curtis Wilke. He was here two years ago to
see both of us and the rebels get that rousing win over Alabama. In fact he said that every
Alabama game he’s gone to has been a loss for Alabama so where we’re going to have you
back in the fall Tom. Another time he threw out the first pitch at Ole Miss baseball game.
It made it across home played on just the first bounce. And while he’s in time this
time he plans to help cheer on the baseball rebels to a victory over Kentucky this afternoon
to complete the sweep. So please join me in welcoming Tom Brokaw. Thank you all very much. I am honored to be
here. There is nothing quite like at this stage
in my life coming to a commencement ceremony anywhere in America in the spring and looking
out on the tapestry of the American Dream because that is what you represent. Students and parents and grandparents and
friends all alike, no other nation on earth has the magnitude of these kinds of ceremonies
going on simultaneously across America. State universities and private, Ivy League
school and junior colleges it is the essence of who we are. That we are constantly trying
to improve our place on this very special piece of geography called the United States
of America. Today you are taking your part in it. Not
just as students but also as parents who have made sacrifices on their behalf. We are in
the midst of a raucous president campaign quite obviously. In which there is a lot of
discussion and differences about the greatness of America. I would say to all the candidates, republicans
and democrats alike, come to Oxford, go to Iowa City, go to a junior college in western
South Dakota, go to Stanford, Harvard, Yale or any of the great private schools and you
will see the greatness of America reaffirmed on these ceremonies. So I congratulate all
of you for taking part in this passage in your life and I am very excited for you about
where it may go. Now let me also say at the beginning I am
so relieved to be speaking to a graduating class from Ole Miss. If I were speaking at
Alabama I would have to use smaller words and shorter sentences. Now this is the first time I have been in
the Grove, and I have been here many times, when it has this kind of a setting and this
kind of an organization. I don�t now how many of you are aware of that, but when they
began yesterday to get this in place for graduation ceremonies they discovered over here in the
bushes two SAE�s who were trying to sleep it off, it turns out. They�d not just been
there over night; they�d had been there since the Alabama win last fall, it turns
out. Now I�ve had a very lucky life and by most
standards, I suppose, a successful life. I came out of high school as kind of a wiz kid.
And then I went off the rails for those of you who are not graduating with honors you
have a fellow member of your small fraternity here at the podium tonight. I went to the University of Iowa where, as
I often say, I had a double major in Pi Phi�s and Kappa�s for a full year. And then I
retreated to South Dakota and I even dropped out of the school for a while. The important
part of that experience for me at an early and formative time in my life, I learned how
quickly failure can come to you and it was in fact an instructive time. I never fail
on the occasion on which I am being honored to think back about how quickly you can go
off the rails and that�s something I think all of us have to think about as we begin
the century in which they call the real world. For the last four years you have been told
just that. This occasion will mark your entry into the real world. That�s a big misrepresentation. The first
of many that you will encounter. Tomorrow is not the real world. Neither was
college nor high school. The real world it turns out was junior high.
That�s when you first encountered the petty jealousies that you�ll experience for the
rest of your life. The locker room stud who mistakes brawn for
brains. The classroom geek who couldn�t get a date
for the prom but will return to your first reunion in his private jet with an app named
after his high school math teacher. The hot babe amongst you who worries more
about the shade of lip gloss than she does about the future of her gender. Jr. high is in fact where real life begins
but for your generation there are welcome changes. Your generation is age neutral as no generation
before you has ever been. You don�t have to stand in line to accomplish what you want.
You may have to be 21 years of age to buy booze, but not to start a business these days,
to fight a war, to vote for a president, to marry whoever you want, and also to be color
blind. In so much of the environment that is defining
our time you, the young people, are teaching your parents to drive the new technology and
the new redefinition of the culture that we are all a part of. Every generation leaves a mark in history
and its most profound experience. I wrote about what I called The Greatest Generation
� young men and women who spent their childhood and early teen years in the cruel depths of
the Great Depression. Unemployment in Mississippi in 1936 was 17%
– higher in the African American neighborhoods. Mississippi was not alone. That was a portrait
of America. It was earn what you could every day and not expect anything less that what
you could earn for yourself. By 1941 this country was in the greatest war
in the history of mankind, fought on 6 of the 7 continents and all the seas and the
skies above and before that war was over, 50 million people had perished around the
world � and yet those beleaguered survivors of the Great Depression signed up in record
numbers to take part in that war. And they did. Alas, men and women of color
who served nobly and heroically came home to America still as second-class citizens
determined to change all of that. It was a brutal fight to assure equal rights
under the law if not always in practice. Dr. King had two primary tenants that we need
to be reminded of today. Those tenants were, non�violence. I cant tell you how many times
I covered a demonstration where young African Americans and, also white people who joined
them in solidarity, would go to the ground cover over up their vitals and be beaten mercifully
often by cops or citizens, not just in Mississippi, but across the South and later in the North
as well. As a reporter in the South in those days,
I must tell you I could never have imagined that I would be here one day, with the affection
that I have for Ole Miss speaking to a student body that is ever more diversified � or
that I would walk into the Chancellor�s box during a football game and find James
Meredith as the guest of honor. Or that the president of the Ole Miss Alumni Association
would be an African American mother of a student here who also happened to be an executive
at FedEx. These are important, historic steps forward
in Mississippi but across the country in every state, in every institution the issue of race,
reconciliation, resolution � these are the unfinished businesses of our time � and
its not confined just to states and the great South, but its across state lines, from sea
to shining sea in our nation. The dream of equality for all is not an obligation
of one race or another. It is a common calling in our unique society; we are still a nation
of immigrants, where the rule of law is inadequate if the rule of the heart is not also an equal
partner. All shades of the American palette matter. In your time at this University there have
been unconscionable acts of violent deaths initiated by police officers and demented
racists. But so, too, have there been too many violent
deaths � African Americans dying at the hands of other African Americans in their
neighborhoods. So as you leave here today, remember this,
all lives matter whatever the color. And while some political figures exploit the
understandable fear And while some political figures exploit the
understandable fear that arises from a single terrorist attack here or the tragedies recently
in Europe, too few of those same public figures, far too few, acknowledge the epidemic of violent
massive gun deaths in America. An elementary school in Connecticut, a junior
college in Oregon, a Virginia college, a South Carolina church and so many other places across
the county. Inner cities that are ablaze with gunfire.
Just today there were news items coming out of Memphis about the record number of homicides
in that community. I am a long time gun owner, I have a closet
full of guns, I had my first one when I was 10 years of age. I am still active in sport
shooting but I am appalled by the determination of organizations and individuals to arm more
people without any appreciation of the consequence ever more lethal weapons in our midst. More guns and more firearm tolerance will
mean more home grown acts of terror. Yes we have a constitutional right own guns.
I believe strongly in the second amendment � but with that right comes the personal
obligation to be on guard against the promiscuous use of guns, not to pretend no that limits
means no trouble. No one is going to take my guns away. The 2nd Amendment is here to stay � but
common sense and prudent use are marks of an enlightened people with or without that
constitutional amendment. I appeal to you to beyond guns and violence
to get involved in the issues of the day dividing our country because you are uniquely qualified
as a young generation to have an impact on my generation. The digital universe is the single most powerful
form of communication ever invented � and we�re still in the seminal stages. In every aspect of human endeavor � communication,
social, science, academic, commerce, political, research, the digital universe is the sun
and the stars � it�s a new universe and it�s just getting underway. It�s also a universe with some built in
perils. To those of you who at this moment are texting
or tweeting or checking your e-mail or taking selfies, remember: this is not a private exercise. For one of your classmates, this past spring
it was a very expensive embarrassment. He was contrite; but the fact is he was not alone. Everything that you thumb into this mysterious
universe is available to the determined. And moreover, it is there forever. These are instruments of great convenience,
great value and great service, but in a way they�re also weapons locked and loaded. Gratuitous comments, lies, slanderous attacks,
are consequential. It is your obligation of your generation that
is defining this new universe to be constantly on guard and engage with one another about
the wise use of the digital universe. And just because it is all dressed up and
appearing on the Internet does not make it true. We have a woman who works for us in Montana
at our ranch in a rurally remote area she is primarily interested in being a western
woman caring for the cows and the gardens and taking care of the ranch, But about twice
a week she goes on the internet and then walks across the bridge with her eyes as wide as
saucers and says to me, you are not going to believe what I read on the internet today.
My response is always the same, you�re right Karen; I�m not going to believe what you
read on the Internet today. Too much of what we get these days does not
have a filtration process, that�s our obligation. To much is the work of a twisted mind, I always
think of that mythical figure sitting somewhere in his basement in his underwear, drinking
Jaegermeister and rum shots, still ticked he couldn�t get a date to the prom when
he was in high school and he was going to get even on his blog. To heck with the truth
of the voracity of what he is saying. I believe that the Internet is a great gateway
to civilization because it can unite the world in the values that in America we hold most
dear. Many sites are instruments of companionship and common cause, communication and comedy
across generations. I have a hipster granddaughter who just finished
her freshman year at Columbia. About six weeks into her first term I texted
� are you Phi Beta Kappa yet? She immediately wrote back, No Tom, have you
won the Nobel Prize yet? It�s that closing of the generation gap
that I hold most dear. The digital universe after all is no place
for a generation gap. Still, as someone who has lived in both worlds
and has been excited by the world that I inherited at a younger age and by world that you are
all now such a critical part of, you must remember this: no text will ever replace the
first kiss; no e-mail will ever compete with the spoken phrase, �I love you, I want to
spend the rest of my life with you.� No selfie can ever take the place of holding
a first child moments after birth. Life will always be most rewarding when real
and not virtual emotions are involved. Finally, for the rest of your life, Ole Miss
will be a prominent part of your formative years. You�ll go to great parties and you�ll
think, �Not bad, but it�s not The Grove.� Ole Miss is a special place in this state
and it has as a part of its great history, a distinguished roster of literary stars,
journalists and physicians and teachers and lawyers and politicians and Miss Americas,
athletes and businessmen, philanthropists and musicians. You�ll always credit a big part of your
years to the role it played here at Ole Miss in making the life that you have now. So in encourage you to take from here what
you learned here and always dedicate a part of your life to lifting fellow Mississippians
to a higher station on the scale that was not available to them on how which we measure
civil progress � by tolerance, education, economic opportunity, social acceptance. Take as much pride in where Mississippi ranks
on those metrics as it does in the national football standings. It is no secret Mississippi still has some
gains to make as all states do in those areas but it is a world of possibilities, from the
culturally and agriculturally rich soil of the Delta, to the piney woods on the other
side of Jackson, to the rolling surf of the coastal waters. Finally, as you leave here for what we all
hope will be a life of accomplishment, happiness, prosperity, take a moment today and think
about fellow Mississippians your age who cannot be here because they are at this moment in
uniform in harms way in distant lands in Iraq and Afghanistan and secret places as special
forces. They are all volunteers determined to protect what you hold dear. They are less
than 1% of the population. Other members of your generation are now back
home suffering from PTSD, or missing limbs, they are in hospitals hoping to repair their
bodies or their minds, they are proud of their service and their patriotism � and hope
that somebody has noticed. You have the obligation to notice them everyday, to never forget them,
because they made this day possible for you. In another commencement address, the late
great genius, Steve Jobs said to a Stanford graduating class, �Always stay hungry.�
There is no better charge to any graduating class than that. Stay hungry, not just in
physical terms, but in mental terms and cultural terms and what you want to bring to the world. When I first began to write about the greatest
generation I had learned something that I had not known before. Stop and think about
this for the moment. Hitler had conquered most of Europe; he had his eyes on invading
the United States as well. We were organizing an invasion task force in England and keeping
it secret for the greatest invasion in the history of mankind, a daring audacious invasion.
To land on the shores of France and make our way to Germany and conquer and eliminate this
extraordinary threat to mankind everywhere in the world. The 82nd Airborne, men about
your age from all over America were jumping behind enemy lines in the dark of night. They
knew they would be scattered because the weather was bad and the planes would land in different
places. They wondered how they could reconnect in the night behind enemy lines because the
units wouldn�t be jumping in unified way. And so someone came up with an ingenious idea
about how they could say in touch with each other. Everyone in the 82nd airborne had a
brass clicker, and the leaders of those squads would land, hide their parachutes all by themselves,
think about this for a moment, behind German lines and in the dark of night, they would
click once and hope they�d hear a second click. The first click was, �I�m here,�
the second click was, �I�m coming to join you.� And when they joined up, there are
in the dark of night and fought heroically, to many of them not surviving the battle,
they didn�t ask each other when they met face to face, �You a member of the tea party?,�
�You Republican? You�re a Democrat? I�m not sure I can work with you unless you belong
to the same party, or share the same political beliefs that I do.� They were only interested
in one thing; they were interested in winning the war, however much personal sacrifice that
took, losing their own lives in these formative years so that you could have the lives that
you have today. So as you go forth from here, I hope that
all of you, whatever you chose to do in life as graduates of the University of Mississippi
will find ways to find each other and stay together. Thank you very much. Go Rebs! Thank you. 9

3 thoughts on “Hear award-winning journalist Tom Brokaw’s full speech to the 2016 graduating class at Ole Miss.

  1. TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (WIAT) — The University of Alabama is responding to some controversial comments made by former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw at the Ole Miss Commencement ceremony over the weekend. Brokaw served as the keynote speaker for the University of Mississippi. "Let me also say at the beginning, I'm so relieved to be speaking to a graduating class from Ole Miss. If I were speaking at Alabama, I would have to use smaller words and shorter sentences," said Brokaw.
    There's plenty of discussion both for and against Brokaw's comments, but they're not sitting well with many people in Tuscaloosa. The University of Alabama sent the following statement Sunday night:

    "Thirty-six percent of the freshman class at the University of Alabama has an ACT score of 30 or higher. This places Alabama in the top 5% in the country. Our numbers speak for themselves."

    So far, there's been no reaction from Brokaw.

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