HIGH POINT, N.C., May 6, 2017 – Wolf Blitzer told the 1,000 graduates at High Point University today that before he became an Emmy Award-winning journalist and CNN anchor, he had to learn to show up, be curious and work hard.
Blitzer, who said he began his journalism career as a “young man sheepishly introducing myself” at the Reuters News Agency in Tel Aviv, Israel, also told the 10,000 people in attendance that the first major assignment he turned into an editor drew heavy criticism.
“I thought, maybe journalism wasn’t for me,” Blitzer said. “Maybe I made a mistake. Maybe I should consider quitting. But you know what? The next morning I showed up for work and the next day and the next days after that. I didn’t give up.”
“It stuck with me throughout all of my experiences and I’m glad it did. I’ve been showing up for work every day since then. And life as you will learn, graduates, is about showing up day after day, week after week. People notice when you show up, when you put your head down, when you work hard. You won’t always succeed. You won’t always be the best. But nothing in life comes easy. So show up, be on time and be ready to work.”
His early experiences learning from tough editors and veteran journalists, covering events in the Middle East and then joining CNN in the 1990s as a military-affairs correspondent, gave him the kind of grit he encouraged graduates to have. And while the world will always experience turmoil, Blitzer told graduates and their families that they all play a vital role in moving it forward.
“We take our responsibility as journalists very seriously, and we do it because we want to make sure people like you are ready to take the mantle and lead our country,” Blitzer said. I mean that quite seriously. People like you, Class of 2017. Among you may sit future leaders, maybe presidents, maybe members of Congress, school board members, city council chairs. Our Democracy will not survive without you being very much involved and we won’t be our best without you showing up, working hard, practicing your craft and treating everyone fairly and with kindness.”
As is tradition at HPU’s graduation, a bald eagle soared over the graduates at the end of the ceremony to symbolize the ideals of free enterprise, independence and the ability to pursue new opportunities in America.
The university bestowed an honorary doctorate of human letters to David Cottrell, parent of HPU graduate Leah Cottrell and CEO of RetailData, an international company that employees more than 2,300 people.
“David, this honor comes your way because of your service to God and country,” HPU President Nido Qubein told him. “Because of your selfless service to humankind, because of your life achievements, your leadership in the community and your personal friendship with this institution.”
Graduates also received a powerful Senior Send-Off on May 5 from Qubein, who encouraged them to live lives of both success and significance.
“Graduates, you are the light of the room,” he told graduates. “Shine so this universe will become better because you exist. Let your light shine the pathways and the highways of all you meet. Plant seeds of greatness in their minds, hearts and souls. Don’t be just a light that lights up the room – carry it down the hallway. Light the world so much that your impact and your influence can be felt for a long time.”
Top Highlights from Blitzer’s Speech Include:
“As you will learn, graduates, life is about showing up day after day, week after week. People notice when you show up, when you put your head down, when you work hard. You won’t always succeed. You won’t always be the best. But nothing in life comes easy. So show up, be on time, be ready to work.”
“If you want to be a tennis player, you have to practice. If you want to be a cellist, you have to practice. And if you want to be a journalist, you have to go out there and practice. Go out and report and write and edit and learn all the critically important digital technology that you need to know. Indeed, whatever field you’re going into, practice, practice, practice.”
“You will meet people who are on their way up and on their way down as their careers begin to unfold. Treat them the same.”
“As Dr. Qubein just mentioned, I’m Wolf Blitzer and at least for the next few minutes, you’re in the situation room. I often joke that whatever room I’m in, there is a situation, and this is truly a wonderful situation for me to be in today, to be here with all of you, especially the graduating class of 2017. I am so, so very thrilled that you invited me to participate.”
“Whether you go on to become a lawyer or a landscaper or carpenter, congressman or congresswoman, find the things you’re passionate about and do them well.”
“My dad said, ‘Remember son, if you don’t promote yourself, no one else will.’ So don’t be shy, get out there and do what you need to do.”
“Here’s what I wish for you: That you find the passion that I’ve had and you pursue it; that you do what you love and you seek to make a difference in whatever career you pursue. And don’t forget, family is most important.”
“Stay strong. Stay focused. Stick to your principles even when your boss is tough on you. You have achieved great success already. And I am confident that you will do great things in the years to come.”
“My dad asked ‘Can you make a living being a journalist?’ and I didn’t really know the answer. But I decided at that moment to follow my passion, not because I thought it would bring me fame or success or rewards. It may be hard to believe, but before I was on CNN being Wolf Blitzer, before I had this silver beard, I was a clean shaven young man sheepishly introducing myself at the door of the Tel Aviv news agency at Reuters.”
“I didn’t even know the basics of reporting [when starting out], but I showed up, and that’s very, very important, graduates – to show up. I asked questions, and that’s also very, very important. Never be shy about asking questions. And I leaned on some very veteran journalists in the bureau to teach me the ropes, and they did. They were truly amazing, and, to this day, I am grateful to them for their help.”
“[My first boss] told me he didn’t think I had much of a future in journalism. He knew my dad was a home builder back in Buffalo, New York and suggested maybe I consider moving back to Buffalo and going into the family business. And understandably I was pretty devastated as I walked back to my tiny apartment, thousands of miles from him. I thought maybe journalism wasn’t for me. Maybe I made a mistake. Maybe I should consider quitting. But you know what? The next morning I showed up for work and the next day and the next days after that. I didn’t give up.”
“But don’t believe everything you read. As you may have heard, there are people, there are countries actively trying to spread false information to affect elections, to change views, politicians and policies. So be curious but also be skeptical. Don’t be cynical – you can be skeptical without being cynical. Get your news from multiple trusted sources and not just your social media feed.”
“As serious journalists, we are always striving to be fair and responsible and you should as well. Everyone deserves to be treated fairly, equally and with kindness, no matter who they are.”
“We take our responsibility as journalists very seriously, and we do it because we want to make sure people like you are ready to take the mantle and lead our country. I mean that quite seriously. People like you, Class of 2017. Among you may sit future leaders, maybe presidents. Maybe members of Congress. School board members. City Council chairs. Our Democracy will not survive without you being very much involved and we won’t be our best without you showing up, working hard, practicing your craft and treating everyone fairly and with kindness.”
“None of the things I’ve told you so far would be possible if you don’t really love what you’re doing – if you dread getting up in the morning and going to work. Yes, there will be bad days. There will be bosses you dislike and tasks you don’t want to do. You will falter; you will make mistakes. All of us do. What will keep you going is if you truly love what you’re doing. It’s the most valuable lesson I’ve learned in my career, and as I said, I still get up every morning excited to go to work, excited to report the news, excited to learn something new. And can you imagine, graduates, if you can achieve the goal of getting paid and making a living doing something you truly love? That is such a blessing. That is such a wonderful, wonderful experience.”