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Seniors pleased with selection of NBC anchor Brian Williams

Joseph McMahon | Friday, May 14, 2010

University President Fr. John Jenkins selected the host of NBC Nightly News Brian Williams — a journalist who has said he does not even tell his wife who he votes for — to deliver the 2010 Commencement address.

Jenkins’ decision to invite Williams comes on the heels of last year’s controversy over President Barack Obama’s invitation to deliver the address, and seniors say they are pleased with this selection.

“I think Notre Dame made a good selection,” senior Nicholas Dan said. “I’m glad there is no drama about the speaker.”

Dan said he was initially disappointed at not having a speaker with the gravitas of the president of the United States, but he said this changed when he learned more about Williams and his career.

“When the Commencement speaker was first announced, I was fairly unimpressed,” he said. “But after some reflection, I think he will do a good job. Reporters have a wide variety of experiences, and speak for a living. I’m sure he will be interesting.”

Although some Notre Dame seniors said they are not devotees of any nightly news program, senior Keith Ruehlmann said he knew of Williams from his humorous appearances on 30 Rock and The Daily Show.

“I liked him on 30 Rock, so I approve,” he said. 

Ruehlmann said although he is sure Williams’ address will contain the same messages as speakers in the past, he is confident that his experience as someone who has traveled the world and met numerous heads of state would make the Commencement speech memorable.

“I’d imagine it’ll be the same ‘go out and change the world, you are the future’ talk, but as someone who has made a career out of covering the news around the world, I think he’ll be in a unique position to offer insight from his experience,” he said. “I’m looking forward to hearing what he has to say.”

Jenkins said he was very happy the University was able to secure a speaker with the stature of Williams.

“Mr. Williams is one of this country’s most respected and trusted journalists, and we are absolutely delighted that he has accepted our invitation,” Jenkins said in a press release.

“He has tremendous insight into the current state of our world, and I know his perspectives will be of great interest to our graduating Class of 2010.”

When he heard Williams would deliver the address, senior James Redden said he was glad there would be no controversy at Commencement this year.

“I am not disappointed that Brian Williams is the speaker,” he said. “I think he will be engaging and entertaining. I am glad that this year’s speaker is not controversial because it keeps the focus on the celebration of the seniors instead of on the speaker.”

Dan and Ruehlmann also said they were very happy there would be no drama this year.
“I’m glad that I won’t have to worry about the firestorm that existed last year,” Ruehlmann said. “Williams was clearly a conservative choice based off of what transpired last year, but I think everyone from our class expected our speaker to be far less controversial. I wasn’t wowed by the selection, but at the same time, I’d rather have that than protesters on the outskirts of campus and planes flying overhead.”

While some were impressed by Williams’s credentials, senior Priyenka Thapa said she is impressed by Williams’s looks.

“He is handsome and hopefully he’ll have something resonating to say,” she said.

Thapa said she really wished one of Williams’s NBC co-workers could have given theaddress.

“I really wish Alec Baldwin, Tina Fey or Amy Poehler would’ve been selected,” she said. “I have the utmost confidence that one of them would have delivered the speech of a lifetime.”

Williams is the seventh anchor of the NBC Nightly News and has reported on events such as Hurricane Katrina, the death of Pope John Paul II and the war in Iraq. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York and on the Board of Directors of the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation.

He received his undergraduate degree from George Washington University and then studied at the Catholic University of America.