Broadcast journalist Judy Woodruff encouraged the graduates at Union College to fail.
Woodruff, who is senior correspondent and co-anchor of the PBS NewsHour, recalled that early in her career she was removed as anchor of the local six o’clock news and later taken off coverage of a presidential campaign.
“In each case, I thought my career was over. Somehow, I hung in there, threw myself into the next assignment and it worked out all right,” she said Sunday during the college’s 217th annual commencement ceremony. A total of 520 students received undergraduate degrees.
Woodruff, who also worked for CNN, cited other prominent people who have failed including World War II-era British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who failed sixth grade, and basketball superstar Michael Jordan, who was cut from his high school team.
“The reason they recovered from failure — as you will — is they were driven by a larger purpose. As the poet Robert Browning wrote, ‘A man’s reach should exceed his grasp. Or what’s a heaven for?’ ” she said. “What matters is not that you fail, but how you respond. Hate failure and then pick yourself up, dust yourself off and go on your journey to make a difference.”
Woodruff encouraged the students especially to push for women’s equality. This is the college’s 40th anniversary of admitting women. While women have made tremendous strides, Woodruff said there are still too few in Congress, the corner office and among college and university professors.
Woodruff received an honorary doctor of human letters. Also honored was poet Marvin Bell, who was the Flannery O’Connor professor of letters at the University of Iowa until his retirement in 2005.
Bell said a liberal arts college such as Union is a place where the seemingly disparate knowledge of human culture connects.
“It takes the arts and philosophy to give expression to what we think and feel,” he said.
President Stephen C. Ainlay thanked the Class of 2011 for its significant accomplishments off campus including hours of volunteer work. The students have helped young children to read, traveled to places like Ghana to build libraries and improve schools, and Ethiopia to fix wells and bring clean water; and fed people in need through Campus Kitchen and Octopus’s Garden.
Students also have excelled academically and in athletic competitions.
“I hope that you’ve found in Union a supportive environment that has helped you grow and find your passion,” he said. “I hope that your time at Union deepened your love of learning. I hope that we’ve created within you an insatiable appetite for knowledge. I hope that we’ve provided you with the intellectual tools that will allow you future success. And, I hope Union has created memories, friendships and commitments that will endure.”
Mildred Berroa, 24, of Schenectady said she was looking forward to the next chapter in her life after graduating with a degree in psychology.
Berroa plans to take some time off and then try to get into graduate school. She said leaving Union was bittersweet because she will miss the great teachers and the friends she has made. She recalled being exposed to campus while she was in middle school through the Science and Technology Entry Program (STEP), where college professors provide academic tutoring and enrichment to public school students and partner with them on research projects.
One of the teachers she met then was involved in psychology, which spurred her interest in the field.
“She became my favorite professor,” she said.