Updated 6/21 9:04 p.m. CST with photos.
The sun peeked through a rainy forecast as Michael Wilbon, sports columnist for The Washington Post and co-host of ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption, addressed the more than 4000 members of the Class of 2010 at an abbreviated 152nd Commencement Friday evening.
“You can pursue passions professionally and in further educational endeavors,” he said, “But it requires you to honestly assess what you love, to give into what you want to do and what you’re good at instead of holding fast to the notion of what you ought to do or what you’re trained to do.”
Wilbon flew in from Los Angeles to speak before graduates, distinguished faculty members and the thousands of family members that filled the western half of Ryan Field. He agreed to become the commencement speaker after Christiane Amanpour dropped out at the last minute due to reporting responsibilities.
But Wilbon relished the moment to speak before his alma mater, saying he was “beyond honored.” Wilbon graduated from the Medill School of Journalism in 1980. That year, he started working for the Washington Post as a sports columnist.
At the podium, Wilbon turned an overcast day into a hopeful one filled with sage advise and witty remarks. He joked about Amanpour’s drop as speaker.
“Trust me, there were other turndowns by the powers at be,” he said, “I guess when Blagojevich [WCAS '79] said no, it got a little tense.”
He reminisced about his own graduation ceremony, 30 years from last Saturday. Though he could not remember his commencement speaker, the 51-year-old said, Amanpour was “probably off covering conflict in Baghdad there too.”
“I’m one of those people who knew when my parents dropped me off at Sargent Hall — believe me it was a dump then too — I was about to begin the four most important and enjoyable years of my life.”
For Wilbon, the commencement was the beginning and the end of many things, one including sound advice. Despite the hardships the class of 2010 will surely face, he reassured the class their years at Northwestern leave them better prepared to have a successful life post-college.
“I know from my professional and personal experiences that you, as a group, is as well-prepared as any and more prepared than most to leave Evanston and be damn successful by any measure at whatever you decide to do,” he said.
He said the class should learn to take calculated risks. While covering the seventh game of the NBA Finals less than 24 hours ago, Wilbon said one of the themes resonating between each coach’s post-game speeches was that “anything [as rewarding as a professional sports championship] is and should be difficult to attain.”
He paused for a moment. Whether it is men and women being drafted into war or economic instability, he said, graduates find ways to overcome the bleakest situations, referring to the distinguished alumni from the Class of 1980.
“It might be difficult for most of you, yes,” he said, “Then good. This is a competitive world you are about to step into. But you enter it with the best weapon this culture can arm you with: a damn good education. Because you enter the world properly prepared, the triumphs will be that much sweeter.”
The headline has been corrected to amend the spelling of “receive.” Thanks to commenters Danny and Sam for pointing out the error.