Bob Woodward tells grads Iraq war will define future
Bob Woodward, left, and Bucknell Trustee Chair Judge Susan Crawford '69 shake graduate hands.
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LEWISBURG, Pa. – Bucknell University awarded 820 undergraduate and 25 graduate degrees Sunday at an event featuring as keynote speaker the accomplished journalist Bob Woodward.
It was the University's 157th commencement and, as if on cue, damp and overcast skies gave way to sun-streaked blue just as the Rooke Chapel bells began tolling to commence the processional from the Christy Mathewson Memorial Gateway to the Academic Quadrangle.
Bucknell President Brian C. Mitchell told the estimated 8,000 to 10,000 in attendance that recent events had underscored the importance of close communities of learning.
Responsible for each other
"We saw Bucknell, students, faculty, staff, and alumni extend an outpouring of support to friends and colleagues at Virginia Tech and to one another," Mitchell said. "Our compassionate response to this crisis was swift and genuine. Simply put, we all need each other. We are all responsible for each other. Students, please know you will always be part of the Bucknell community."
Woodward told the celebrants that he and President Mitchell had calculated that the aggregate cost for educating the Class of 2007 was $200 million. "Think about it - $200 million - the best capital investment that has ever been made," he said.
The journalist, who was presented with Bucknell's Award of Merit, which honors exceptional contributions to a profession and exemplifying the highest standards of Bucknell, spoke about his role in covering Watergate in the 1970s, the long-term impact of the Iraq War, and the importance finding work that one loves.
Of crucial importance, he said, is carefully deciding "who you are going to work with. It makes all the difference in the world."
He recalled that when his reporting on Watergate was being questioned, he was called to a meeting with publisher Katharine Graham. She'd asked when he and fellow reporter Carl Bernstein would get to the bottom of the Watergate story.
Noting the fear and entanglements of the many sources he and Carl Bernstein were researched, he responded."Never. We're never going to learn the full story."
Obligation beyond ourselves
"Never? Don't tell me never," she responded. Woodward called her comment not a threat, but a statement of purpose, realizing, he says, "We had an obligation beyond ourselves to find out what happened here and what it means. That is a moment where I realized that I was working with somebody and for someone who knew precisely what the job was. That the job is to get to the bottom of things."
He said his latest book, State of Denial, showed that the administration "for three and a half years did not tell the truth about what was going on in the war."
The lesson, he said, is that "we have to worry about is secret government. Of all the problems in the world, secret government will do us in. Whoever said it got it right when they said that democracies die in darkness."
Woodward said the world had changed after the 9-11 terrorist attacks, but "we in this country have not changed our lives in my view enough to meet the challenge and the responsibilities of that new era. The most important thing going on in the world right now is the Iraq war. It will define your future."
Woodward told the celebrants to not let the Iraq war "teach you that the United States can't engage the world. Don't let it teach you desperation or cause you to retreat into the bubble. Most importantly, don't let it teach you that our country cannot deal with conflict and cannot deal with evil like Saddam Hussein. Because I think we can and we will."
He concluded by saying that while he felt the world was at a point of peril, his friend David Halberstam, the late journalist, had it right. Woodward recalled Halberstam's being fond of saying at commencements, "You'll be fine. There is a determination, a real resilience and a spirit in this country that will not be snuffed out."
Woodward added, "So we'll fix it, but there is more much for you now to fix."
Woodward shook hands
As the degrees were handed out Woodward shook hands with each of the graduates, asking many what they plan to do next with their lives.
At Sunday's ceremony, the University also awarded honorary degrees to Richard Garman, formerly a Bucknell student, who built a reputation in the construction industry and for his extensive civic and philanthropic activities, and Alan Leshner, president of American Association for the Advancement of Science and former Bucknell professor.
Woodward attends one commencement a year.
Posted May 20, 2007
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