Thank you all. I will try not to make this too long. I know it’s wet out there. It’s drier up here, so we’re luckier. But I truly want to thank President Bravman for that generous introduction. Thank you to the Board of Trustees, to the distinguished faculty and to the entire Bucknell community for this extremely warm welcome back home. If I had gotten such an overwhelming reception at my own graduation, I might never have left.
To all of today’s new graduates, your loving families and valued friends, congratulations to you all. Believe me when I tell you I share your Bison pride. This is your big day. And while it is the culmination of something very, very important, it is also the beginning of a lifetime of learning that lies ahead.
Today also may be a day when, on the verge of leaving it, you fully appreciate this place the most. You suddenly recognize that you’ve had the thrill of spending these past years in one of the most beautiful spots on Earth — a lovely bubble in which you felt safe and protected.
I remember sitting out there, even though it was 45 years ago, during my own graduation from Bucknell, and wondering — what is this “real world” that I keep hearing about? What is it really going to be like? Could it possibly measure up to Bucknell? And how am I going to deal with it? I finally got used to this place!”
So mixed in with your excitement there may be a healthy serving of fear. You know what? That’s normal. It suggests that you are pretty intelligent.
But as you sit there, perched between your college days and your future life, there is one thing I want you really to know.
You guys are ready. You are absolutely ready.
The education you got here, to the people you met, to the ideas you shared, to the community that you were part of, you are ready.
Ready for what? Ready for all of it! For whatever comes. For life, a little bit more liberty, and most importantly— the pursuit of happiness.
Happiness, you ask? Really? Happiness is that important?
I believe it is.
Today wiser heads than mine here at Bucknell have generously givee me a Doctor of Humane Letters. I want to offer very humble thanks for that. It means my parents, who God bless are still alive, can start bragging to all their friends that he’s finally a doctor. It’s a fulfillment of a lifelong dream — more specifically, my parents’ lifelong.
I’m sure many of you are feeling that today, as you fulfill one of your parents’ dreams.
What makes this moment even sweeter for me is not only am I a genuine honorary doctor, I’m apparently a humane one as well — which actually may surprise a few of my show business colleagues in New York and Hollywood.
But as I stand before you as a new, humane doctor, I can’t help but reflect upon my long and twisty path to getting here.
Let me tell you a story: When I was an undergrad an unmentionable number of years ago, as I said, my loving parents were emotionally prepared for me to go to medical school. And as a former pre-med student, I like to believe that I could have become a great physician — Dr. Leslie Moonves, MD.
And I might have, if only one horrible thing had not happened to me sophomore year — and that horrible thing was organic chemistry.
As John Lennon once put it, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” Once Organic Chemistry happened to me, it was pretty clear these “other plans” were going to be very necessary. For better or worse, there would be no Dr. Leslie Moonves — at least not until today.
So after I failed to make the grade in Organic Chem, I went from pre-med to undeclared and, more accurately, unfocused. And, like a few of you out there, I was not a perfect student here. Come on, you know who you are.
If you would have asked my Bucknell classmates who would be standing here today giving this address, I guarantee you I wouldn’t have been at the top of the list. In fact, it’s possible I wouldn’t have even made anybody’s list.
I must say, for instance, that it was great seeing from right here the outside of Bertrand Library today. I remember it well because that’s mostly what I saw of that building when I went here. The outside of it.
At any rate, suddenly I was a sophomore shopping for a new major. Fortunately, Bucknell had offered me the opportunity to take a year abroad in Spain. By the time I got back, and the school asked me what my major was going to be, I realized I had so many Spanish courses under my belt that, hola! I was a Spanish major! And so, let me say to all of you new graduates today Felicidades! Mui Bueno.
It was then that my father offered me one of the most memorable parental advices I was ever offered. You see, I took him downtown, and we had a heart-to-heart talk at a bar on Market Street. And I said, “Dad, I have to tell you something. I’m not going to med school. And I’m not going to be a doctor.” And he said, “Well, what are you going to do?” And I said, “I’m going to New York to go to acting school and become an actor.” My father thought about this for a while, then he said, “Why would you want to do that?” And I replied, “Because acting makes me happy.”
And then he offered me this unbelievable piece of advice: “Happiness? You think that’s all there is to life?”
Think about that for a second.
With all due respect to my wonderful dad, I think at least that one time, I was right and he was wrong. I think when I made the cover of the Business section of the New York Times, he finally acknowledged that I may have made the right choice going a different way.
But the point is, a lot will change for you as you begin the next chapter of your life. Maybe those changes won’t be as dramatic as the swing from pre-med to pre-acting, and at times the road ahead will get as hazy for you as it was for me back then. The road will fork. You will have choices to make.
The most profound advice I can offer in that regard was provided by one of my favorite philosophers, Yogi Berra, who said, “When you get to a fork in the road, take it.” I would add, as long as you think it may lead to happiness.
Many of them do. No matter where you go from here, it’s good to see these forks in the road for what they are — opportunities. That has been true for me. While I may have been a passable doctor — as long as no chemistry was required — I think I had a lot more fun and made a much bigger difference in this world by pursuing my passion and yes, engaging in the pursuit of happiness.
And in that pursuit, the lessons you have learned here will never leave you. They will serve you well all your life. Because as a graduate of this wonderful institution, you are ready.
It may not always appear that way, of course.
At the time, my shift to liberal arts from my doomed major in science seemed a little shaky. After all, what liberal arts classes will ever pay off? But in the end it turned out that many of them helped me immensely, because many of those courses I took here truly prepared me for where I am today.
My terrific history courses, for instance, gave me the perspective to understand the kind of issues that we face every day at CBS News.
Thanks to that part of my education, I have seen very clearly the need for truth and balance in what we do. History is full of examples where the way the media covered a story turned the course of events, from William Randolph Hearst’s part in the buildup to the Spanish American War, to Walter Cronkite’s role in bringing the War in Vietnam to an end, and to the current run of, yes, Donald Trump. Media has affected and will affect our world.
Again, were my 20th Century Lit and Shakespeare courses worthwhile? Well, as a TV executive, they prepared me to evaluate just about any show I am likely to see. Every plotline, every point of view in every comedy or drama out there comes from the original works you studied here.
Take a story about a guy who appears to be as nice as anything, but underneath his smiling exterior beats the heart of a stone cold criminal. You either have Richard the Third or Walter White from Breaking Bad.
I particularly loved my theater classes right here, and directing and acting with Harvey Powers, who the theatre is named after. He was a great guy. A mentor. And one of a kind. He’s the guy who told me to go to New York and continue my theater education that I began here.
What did my background in the theater prepare me for? Isn’t that the textbook example of a useless course of study in this high-tech world?
I don’t think so. As I shifted, I gained a better sense of how to recognize talent when I saw it. I use that aspect of my education every single day. After a while, I eventually knew enough about acting talent to know that I didn’t have enough of it. So I made a pivot and another wise decision and I started my career as an executive.
I liked that right away because it made me happy. I really enjoyed putting projects together. I know how to appreciate a great script, and great acting — which has given me an advantage over my competitors, who might have been great business people but who had no background in the creative end of things. This edge has helped me throughout my career.
The bottom line is that I left Bucknell far better prepared than I ever imagined. And I’ll bet the same is true for you.
But prepared for what? What has this education gotten you ready for?
Money? Fame? A really cool car? Yeah! Maybe all those things, actually.
But seriously. What are you being prepared for? I’m going to sound like a Gen-X guy now, even though I am clearly not. The answer is: whatever.
Whatever you dream. Whatever you crave for yourself and those you love. And yes, whatever you think that will make you happy. Don’t be too quick to accept anything less. Your great preparation here has made it possible for you to have the courage to be open to whatever comes.
And when change comes, embrace it. You’re prepared for that too.
Thanks to technology, the pace of change has never been more exciting and transformative than it is today. I am envious of you. This is your world. You’re all digital natives. You grew up with this stuff. It’s probably hard for you to imagine waiting in line at the freshman dorms for the one pay phone — dimes and quarters in hand to call your girlfriend. Think of that — fifty freshmen sharing one phone in Trax Hall. And trust me there was definitely no texting on those phones. Back then, we were actually smarter than the phones were.
I grew up in an age of three channels on TV and zero apps. You're going into a world where you can literally start your own channels and make your own movies on your iPhone.
You can create whatever world you want for yourself. This digital space we all now live in now gives you freedom to define your own success.
And wherever you go, you will be taking this great education with you. Bucknell is not your last bubble. It’s just the first of many that will surround and enchant you. Now that you’ve been a member of this community, you know how to build — and maybe even lead — the ones to come.
Maybe that’s the greatest gift that I ever received from this place. The lesson of community. When you arrive from high school and enter this world of Bucknell, you become part of this truly great community. And the common experience I shared here with other people really did prepare me to be part of the communities throughout my life — professionally and personally.
In the workplace, the ability to build a community that pulls together is immeasurably important. Actually, in business it’s more important to get along with other people than to be smarter than them. Although that doesn’t hurt either. At home, it’s no different. When you have kids, for instance, you automatically become part of a community that forms around the school. That’s an important part of your kids’ education.
There are other communities that make life deeper and better. Places of worship. Clubs that form around the pursuit of a little white ball, or a fuzzy yellow one, or discussing the latest non-fiction best-seller.
And then there are the larger communities of which we all are a part. Our nation, and the community that is the human race.
Don’t you see yourself as a part of one or all of these communities? That may be something you learned here as well. I know I did.
It’s true that you don’t know what you’re going to face out there. That’s one of the most wonderful things about graduation. In not knowing what lies ahead in a world of opportunity. Anything can happen. Maybe that’s scary. But it should also thrill you to your core.
But you know, before you rush off to embrace the world, don’t forget to embrace something else closer to home — your family and your friends. If you are fortunate enough to have a parent or other loved one who helped you get to this beautiful place and this meaningful day, seize this moment to thank them or just seize and hug them.
Because the things that matter will always be the things that make this place so special: your community, your friends, and the family that made it possible for you to be here.
Today, I encourage you all to begin the lifelong and meaningful process of defining your life in a way that leaves room for happiness — a happiness that, unlike the one you achieved here, your parents don’t have to pay for.
The future is yours. Put your arms around it. Hold it close. Do so with all the guts and gusto you can muster.
You really are ready.