It wasn't a plan that led Leslie Moonves '71 from the halls of Bucknell University to the boardroom of one of the world's largest and most influential media organizations; it was passion.
Standing before the Class of 2016 at his alma mater's 166th Commencement, Moonves, the chairman, president and CEO of CBS Corp., challenged the soon-to-be Bucknell graduates to follow their own passions and doggedly pursue happiness.
"I think I've 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," Moonves said in his address to graduates. "In that pursuit, the lessons you have learned here will never leave you. They will serve you well all your life."
A Spanish major, Moonves said the lessons of his Bucknell education have aided him again and again in his career. History classes gave him perspective to understand the issues covered daily by CBS News; his courses in Shakespeare and 20th-century literature prepared him to evaluate the countless scripts and pitches that have come across his desk. And his study of theater under drama Professor Harvey Powers?
"I gained a better sense of how to recognize talent when I saw it," said Moonves, who greenlighted Friends and ER at Warner Bros. TV and who at CBS oversees television's highest-rated comedy (The Big Bang Theory) and drama (NCIS). "I think I know how to appreciate a great script, and great acting, too ... That edge has helped me throughout my career."
Moonves said he came to his career in entertainment by following a long path of discovery. He began Bucknell intending to pursue a pre-med track, but an introduction to organic chemistry prompted him to change direction. After graduation, he would switch tracks again to pursue acting, then an entertainment career behind the scenes. While it may have worried his parents, this process of exploring what made him happy also gave him the knowledge and tools to help him attain that happiness, Moonves said.
"I left Bucknell far better prepared than I ever imagined," Moonves told the graduates. "And I bet the same is true for you ... Your great preparation here has made it possible for you to have the courage to be open to whatever comes."
Moonves addressed his remarks to the crowd of more than 850 black-robed graduates and thousands more orange-poncho-clad well-wishers who gathered on the Malesardi Quadrangle in a light rainfall for the May 22 Commencement ceremony.
The University presented degrees to 867 graduates (including 49 who completed their studies in January) at Commencement. They comprised 834 students receiving bachelor's degrees and 33 receiving master's degrees. Among undergraduates, 680 received degrees in the arts & sciences, and 154 received degrees in engineering. The graduates represent 33 states and the District of Columbia, as well as 22 nations. | Learn more about the Class of 2016.
Moonves, too, received a degree at Commencement; the University presented him with an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree in recognition of his professional achievements and contributions to society. The degree was granted following approval by independent faculty and trustee committees and a unanimous vote by the full Board of Trustees.
"As an undergraduate Spanish major and student of the theater who has risen to the top of his profession, he exemplifies the power of intellectual engagement with arts and languages, and the enduring value of Bucknell's liberal arts-based education," Bucknell President John Bravman said in conferring the degree to Moonves.
Bravman in his remarks also recognized Bob Malesardi '45 and his wife, Doris, who recently pledged the largest single commitment in University history, $20 million, to be used exclusively to support financial aid. The University recently renamed the central green space on campus the Malesardi Quadrangle in their honor. The Malesardis received a standing ovation during the Commencement ceremony, the first held on the quad bearing their name.
Provost Barbara Altmann additionally recognized five professors with awards for excellence in teaching: Professors Michael Drexler, English; Bernhard Kuhn, Italian studies; Morgan Benowitz-Fredericks, biology; Robert Rosenberg, English; and Karline McLain, religious studies. | Read more about faculty awards.
Professor Deborah Abowitz, sociology, received the Bucknell University Writing Across the Curriculum Award of Excellence, and Professor Angèle Kingué, French & Francophone studies, and Mona Mohammed '16 were recognized as the 2016 recipients of the Burma-Bucknell Award.
Students, faculty and staff were also recognized at Commencement with Diversity & Inclusion Awards, which were conferred during Bucknell's first-ever Diversity Summit in March. The awards honor significant contributions to the University's efforts to build and nurture an inclusive campus community.
The value of community, Moonves said toward the close of his remarks, was among the most valuable lessons he took away from Bucknell, some 45 years ago. "Now that you've been a member of this community, you know how to build — and maybe even lead — the ones to come," he said. "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."
As the Class of 2016 graduates leave Bucknell, they join an alumni community of some 50,000 around the world. It's one waiting eagerly to receive them, said student speaker Jennifer Brady '16, who presented the class response at Commencement.
"We are stepping into the global community of Bucknellians, and we are taking with us all that we have learned and accomplished here," said Brady, an animal behavior major from central New Hampshire. "We will keep pursuing our dreams and getting it right. We will keep forming our ideas and speaking out. We will keep supporting each other and building up our community — and we are about to share all of that with generations of Bucknellians that are waiting to receive us."
For Brady, what binds together that community is more than just a place called Bucknell University; it's a common drive — a pursuit of perfection Brady saw in her classmates across the spectrum of academic pursuits.
"Everyone sitting here has pursued something — a major, sport, instrument, art, virtue, hobby or job — with that same dedication to getting it right," Brady said. "It's a trait that permeates the Bucknell culture. We are members of a community that is infused not only with talent, but [also] with the motivation to pursue that talent and realize its full potential."
"Each of us has chased and achieved a goal while we have been here," she continued. "These are the things that stand behind the diplomas we received today, the things that give that paper life and substance."