Lynn Sherr’s Commencement Speech/ Wellesley College/ May 28, 2010

Kim – President Bottomly – very distinguished faculty, trustees, staff, sister alums, loving parents and grandparents and families and all the friends who made all of this possible today, and above all, beautiful, bubbly members of the Royal Purple class of 2010. Congratulations! I’ve even written my speech on purple paper today.

Thank you for inviting me to your party. Thank you for letting me pretend I’m still here. And really, above all, thank you for showing me what the Scream Tunnel sounds like!

I celebrate your accomplishments and I share every tingle of excitement. This day is beyond special in your lives, and I am honored to help welcome you out into the wide, wide world. Regrettably, I do not stand here to guarantee you a job; I can, however, guarantee lunch. Never underestimate lunch.

I also stand here as living, breathing proof that Wellesley does indeed open the doors to the planet. Most of those doors were, in fact, barred to women when I graduated from Wellesley in 1963 – another century, another era, even another color. I was a mellow yellow girl. Golden, if you pushed. Which my generation had to do. As women – or “girls,” they called us – we were not invited to participate in the working world except at the lowest levels. But thanks to the knowledge we gained and the courage we inhaled on this campus, we figured it out. We smashed the barriers so that you – every one of you – can now walk into any doorway that you want. That’s the way it works. Pay it forward, when you’re ready to do the same.What you have earned as graduates – or about to be graduates – of this amazing institution is the ability to move on, to dare to do anything. What you retain as graduates of this amazing institution is the privilege to return any time. Emotionally, spiritually or just to visit. As [dean of religious and spiritual life] Victor [Kazanjian] said, this is home base. Always.

And it’s what you’ve learned in here that will help determine what you do out there. It certainly did for me.

Someone at a Jewish newspaper in Philadelphia, which is my hometown, once asked me if my background had anything to do with my choice of a career, since Jews were always asking questions – and answering with a question. I asked him if he was serious. In fact, I became a reporter for a very corny reason: to tell the truth. To go behind the curtain and expose the wizardry; to find out why and when and where and how; to help make sense and thus bring order to a distinctly disordered world.

By an accident of timing and pure good luck, I have lived the glory years of television network journalism, when news was still recognized as a public service and when getting the story was the only thing that mattered. When we were reality TV. At its best, it’s been energizing and humbling and very satisfying. I relish getting bad guys. I adored bringing people together in front of what we used to call the electronic hearth; I like – what’s not to like – saving lives.

And I loved celebrating the turn of this century on the air with – oh, maybe 10,000 other revelers, Indian revelers, in Mumbai, for our ABC News millennium show, where a very wise fellow helped me put things into perspective. “Aren’t you excited about a new millennium?” I said him, pretty charged up myself. “Well,” he said to me, ” you know, for you folks in America, of course you’re excited; this is your first. We’ve had a few already.”

Perspective.

A few years ago, I did an interview with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whose brilliant mind and true grit helped make women equal in the law. She took me back to 1993, when she first was appointed as the second woman on the bench to the equally liberated Sandra Day O’Connor. So, as Justice Ginsburg told me this story, the day she took her seat, an organization called the National Association of Women Judges had brought along some presents for Ginsburg and O’Connor – and the presents were T-shirts. There was a T-shirt for each of the women. One read, “I’m Sandra, not Ruth;” the other read, “I’m Ruth, not Sandra.” Justice Ginsburg said with great glee, “Now,” she said, “I went through the entire last term, which was my, what? My seventh year on the court? With no one calling me Justice O’Connor. It took six years! But that to me was a sign that we’ve really made it. Now they know that there are two women.” Who would have imagined three?

This wasn’t just about numbers. It was not just about getting in. It was about producing a better product, better reflecting the country, and in my case, covering the news and presenting the audience with a more textured, more accurate sense of the world that we inhabit. And as one of the first women in the business, I not only covered the feminist movement; I was part of it, stepping into jobs that did not exist until I got there, then chronicling the social revolution that has literally changed the rules of society.

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