By Robert C. Jones Jr.
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (December 18, 2014) – With final exams now over, the last research papers written, and master’s and doctoral theses already vigorously defended, graduates at the University of Miami’s 2014 fall commencement were issued a daunting challenge Thursday before their college degrees were even conferred: “Help us build and grow a society that is willing to tackle big problems,” Chuck Todd, political director of NBC News and the moderator of the network’s flagship Meet the Press Sunday morning public affairs program, told them.
“You’ve lived through two decades of political paralysis, so this is your challenge—lead us out of this mess,” said Todd.
A self-described political junkie who has earned a reputation as one of the most passionate journalists and sharpest analysts in American media, Todd told graduates that Gen Xers and Baby Boomers had failed them, noting the two wars, financial crisis, and rapid polarization they have witnessed in their lifetime.
“We have left a mess, a real leadership void,” he said. “The greatest strides we’ve made have been in the world of technology. Then again, what have we done with this technology? We didn’t cure cancer.” Social media, which was supposed to bring people closer together, he said, has been used “to help segregate us as a society. … These new social networks, while prolific, have become monolithic. And it’s really had a negative impact on society, especially on our politics. Somehow, despite the access we have to everyone around the world, we’ve allowed ourselves to become more isolated.”
Todd, who was named an Honorary Alumnus at the ceremony, urged UM’s newest ’Canes to realize how much the country needs “you to get us past this division and selfish behavior,” referring to the well-publicized rifts between Democrats and Republicans.
His sage advice to the students: love what you do for a living, always remember that the little things matter, find a way to say “yes,” take risks early in life, and never take family for granted.
A Miami native who turned down a music scholarship to attend UM because his mother wanted him to experience life outside his hometown, Todd reminded students that he still has passion and love for the U. He noted that some of his life’s most memorable moments occurred on the UM campus—from his first French horn solo at Gusman Concert Hall to his first Little League base hit at Mark Light Stadium.
UM, he said, is just as important to his upbringing as his education at George Washington University, where he attended college. “I always say when you go to the University of Miami, it looks like America in the 21st century,” he said.
Two honorary degrees were conferred at the ceremony. Husband and wife economists Alice Rivlin, a senior fellow in the Economic Studies Program at Brookings and the founding director of the Congressional Budget Office, and Sidney G. Winter, professor emeritus of management at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the leading figures in the revival of evolutionary economics, both received honorary doctoral degrees of humane letters.
More than 1,000 undergraduate, graduate, and law students received their newly minted degrees at the ceremony, held at the BankUnited Center. Read profiles of some of UM’s stellar graduates, including the School of Communication’s Iris Barrios and Miami Law’s Vanessa Joseph and Brendan Corrigan.