Television journalist Tom Brokaw will deliver the commencement speech at Arizona State University’s undergraduate graduation ceremony on May 3, an ASU spokeswoman confirmed Wednesday evening.
As first reported by Downtown Devil, the acclaimed journalist and former anchor and managing editor of NBC Nightly News will be the first high-profile commencement speaker at ASU since President Barack Obama delivered an address on May 13, 2009.
Brokaw will also receive an honorary degree from ASU — a distinction the university controversially chose not to grant Obama.
Brokaw has given several commencement addresses at other schools in the past, including Stanford, Fordham, the University of Iowa and the University of Montana. He is also scheduled on May 10 to deliver a “Senior Day” address at Vanderbilt University the day before their commencement.
His career in journalism has spanned six decades and garnered him numerous awards, including several Emmys, a Peabody and an award for public service in communication from the American Legion.
In 2006, ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication honored Brokaw with the school’s annual Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism.
Rumors of Brokaw’s selection began circulating Wednesday afternoon after ASU’s official Twitter account announced the university would have a special guest speaker at May’s graduation ceremony.
“There is going to be a special guest speaker at the #ASUgraduation in May! Any guesses on who it could be?” ASU’s account tweeted at 2:31 p.m.
The account then posted several hints about Brokaw but did not confirm his identity, telling followers they would have to wait to pick up Thursday’s edition of the State Press, ASU’s independent student newspaper.
The hints exclusively pointed toward Brokaw, however, including one tweet mentioning the guest speaker “saw the Berlin Wall fall.” Brokaw was the only major-television news anchor to report live from the Berlin Wall when it fell in on Nov. 9, 1989.
The same tweet also said the guest speaker “patrolled the streets of Iran with the military,” but Downtown Devil believes the message meant to say “Iraq,” and that the message was taken from a Brokaw biography that reads, “Brokaw patrolled the dangerous Baghdad streets in a humvee convoy with the First Cavalry Division.”
Before ASU spokeswoman Natasha Karaczan confirmed Brokaw would deliver the commencement address, Downtown Devil spoke with several officials at NBC and ASU, including the personal assistants of both Brokaw and ASU President Michael Crow. All officials refused to confirm or deny Brokaw’s selection, but indicated an announcement would be made “soon.”
A Walter Cronkite School professor also acknowledged hearing Brokaw’s name mentioned in conjunction with the commencement.
In addition, Karaczan said she would provide Downtown Devil with an embargoed press release about the commencement if the publication waited until 7 a.m. Thursday to publish anything contained therein.
Downtown Devil first published its story at 6:59 p.m. Wednesday after calling the ASU spokeswoman to inform her the story would be running. She said she would notify the State Press, which published their story at 7:35 p.m., ahead of its intended schedule of 6 a.m., according to the spokeswoman.
Brokaw, 72, anchored NBC Nightly News from 1982 to 2004 and was one of the “big three” network anchors alongside ABC’s Petter Jennings and CBS’s Dan Rather. Brokaw held top-place television ratings against his competitors during what was considered a golden era for the TV news anchor.
The undergraduate commencement is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on May 3 in Sun Devil Stadium. The university expects more than 10,000 students to receive degrees during the ceremony.
ASU will also award honorary degrees to Temple Grandin, an influential animal-science professor at Colorado State University; Nobel Prize-winning neuroscientist Eric Kandel; and Lim Chuan Poh, chairman of government science-research agency A*STAR. Businessman, philanthropist and Bronze Star veteran Nelson Broms will receive the University Medal of Excellence.
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Stephanie Snyder and Mauro Whiteman contributed to this report.