Katie Couric Speaks at University of Wisconsin-Madison Commencement


Every spring, the media likes to highlight some of the most high-profile speakers at college commencements across the country. Robert De Niro, Jon Bon Jovi, Maya Rudolph, Michelle Obama, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and Salman Rushdie are just a handful of the entertainers, politicians, businesspeople, and public figures that took to the stage this year to impart their wisdom on the soon-to-be graduates at colleges and universities across the country.

Some speeches are comedic, and others more serious, but one of the commencement speeches that is generating a lot of buzz was delivered by renowned journalist and author Katie Couric. On May 16, Couric addressed the students of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, as well as their friends, family, and professors. Founded in 1848, the University of Wisconsin-Madison is the official state university of Wisconsin. Prominent alumni from the university include social entrepreneur Ben Schumaker, actress Joan Cusack, author and activist bell hooks, novelist Joyce Carol Oates, businessman John Oros, Dick Cheney, and many, many others.

“I know you must be feeling so many things right now,” Couric said to the graduates towards the beginning of her speech, “relieved, excited, sad, nervous; maybe a bit sleep perhaps a tad hungover,” she joked. “But I hope most of you are feeling proud, lucky and grateful.” During the speech, Couric provided wisdom, encouraging words, and career advice. Here are some of the highlights from her commencement address:

On the world the graduates are living in today…

“We are in the midst of breathtaking, head-swiveling change, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the Industrial Revolution – and technology is the engine that’s powering it. It’s changed the way we bank, shop, drive or don’t drive, cook, commute, communicate, date, navigate, educate, translate – you get the picture!”

On Millennials in the workforce…

“According to one projection, millennials will average 15 to 20 jobs before they retire and move positions an average of every three to four years. Today’s career ladder looks more like an Escher drawing. Which one do I choose? How do I start? Where will it lead me? There are 6,936 different paths that will be taken by you, the class of 2015.”

On career advice…

“Get your rears in gear, and at some point take a job, even a less than perfect one… because it will teach you about responsibility, initiative, follow through, how to deal with a demanding boss or an annoying co-worker. It could lead to a better job, open your eyes to something else, or – just as importantly – tell you what you DON’T want to be doing.”

On being the most diverse generation in history…

“You are the engineers of social justice. You’ve shown you care about what happens in places like Ferguson, Baltimore and Madison. You’ve shown you care about gay rights, women’s rights and human rights. You believe every child in this country should have access to a quality education. All people should be able to lift themselves out of poverty and have a chance to grab their piece of the American dream. You care about the environment, and I know you’ll do a better job of protecting it than we have.

And as the most diverse generation in history, you will witness and embrace the dynamism and vibrancy of a pluralistic society: a beautiful patchwork of people, with unique perspectives but shared goals.”

On activism and continual learning…

“Keep asking questions. Keep demanding change. But remember: activism can’t truly lead to lasting, meaningful change without dialogue, even with those with whom you may disagree.”

To read Katie Couric’s commencement speech in full, head over to TIME for the transcript.

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