Under a powder-blue sky this past Saturday, Randolph-Macon College awarded undergraduate and honorary degrees, most notably a Doctorate of Honorary Letters to award-winning journalist Katie Couric.
A native of Arlington and a 1979 graduate of the University of Virginia, Couric has had an impressive career in journalism. She served as co-host for the NBC “Today” show, and in 2006 was the first female anchor of a nightly news program: the CBS Evening News. She has contributed to ABC World News, Nightline, 20/20, and Good Morning America. She is currently the host of the day-time talk show, “Katie.”
Couric chatted with the crowd as she walked to the stage with the Board of Trustees. “That’s smart!” she said to a woman shielding herself under an umbrella from the bright sunshine.
The 57-year-old journalist once labeled, “spunky” by Tim Russert displayed her talents as she spoke to the graduates about the various labels given to the Millennial generation.
“Don’t let anyone define who you are. Sweeping generalizations are unfair and misguided, and when they’re about entire generations, they’re often just plain wrong,” Couric said. “Each one of you is unique… and you’re the only ones who can define who you are or what you’ll become.”
She urged the graduates to be the “next greatest generation,” and to continue their tradition of tolerance and philanthropic work.
“Seventy-five percent of you donated to a cause that you believed in last year or helped raise money for that cause. That’s awesome!” Couric said.
Couric said that she hoped her life experiences could give the graduates some lessons. She spoke tenderly about her late husband, Jay Monahan, who passed away in 1998 from colon cancer. As she spoke about finding the strength to go on after his death, a welcomed breeze brought some relief and she looked away from her notes, smiled, and said, “Maybe that’s Jay.”
Her last remarks to the graduates encouraged them to embrace life and to look for the “in between moments.” She reminded them “there is so much waiting for you. Put down that iPhone so you won’t miss it. Live. Really live.”
Senior speaker, Alyssa Warren, of Fayetteville, N.C., graduated Summa Cum Laude with a degree in biology and religious studies. She plans to continue her education at Eastern Virginia Medical School under a guaranteed admissions agreement between R-MC and EVMS.
Warren echoed the sentiments of many other graduates when she shouted, “I have fallen in love with Randolph-Macon!”
Senior Ashley Roth, from Newport News, said that she will miss the small town of Ashland and the familiar rumble of the trains.
“I have always felt safe here,” she added.
Safety was a high priority on Saturday with such a high-profile speaker. Private security as well as many Ashland Police officers and Hanover County deputies were scattered throughout the crowd and at entrances to the area. The day stayed peaceful and calm as guests opened their bags to be searched and negotiated the closed streets.
“We were blessed to have a beautiful day and a peaceful event,” said Doug Goodman, Ashland Police Chief. “As with any event of this size, we take diligent steps to develop a plan of action to ensure the safety of the public.”
After a luncheon for all of the graduates and their guests in Crenshaw Gymnasium, the sidewalks around the campus slowly emptied. Luggage and boxes sat next to cars as people stood and talked one last time. It seemed obvious that it was hard to leave the shade of Macon’s old oaks for a new adventure, but the class of 2013 took their four years of life in Ashland and set out to find their way.