ABC News Anchor David Muir Urges Ithaca College Graduates to Find Their Own Voices

ITHACA, NY — Sixteen years after graduating from Ithaca College and three months after being named sole anchor of ABC’s weekend newscasts, David Muir returned to his alma mater on Sunday, May 22, to give the college’s Commencement address. Speaking to some 1,440 new graduates and their guests, Muir told the audience his most important discovery has been the power of the human voice.

“[That] lesson for me, as a young journalist at ABC, came very early,” Muir said.

He was sent to cover Hurricane Katrina, and being on the streets of stricken New Orleans bought Muir face-to-face with people screaming into his camera lens for help. The camera also showed the nation a diabetic woman who, in mid-interview with Muir, collapsed from shock because no insulin was available.

“I remember thinking, ‘Where was the federal response?’” Muir said. “The next day, the buses pulled in, and the White House had mobilized its effort. At that moment, I learned a lesson about giving the voiceless a voice.”

A few months ago in Cairo, as Muir was interviewing a 24-year-old woman on Tahrir Square, men in plain clothes suddenly surrounded her.

“They began asking her, ‘Why are you doing this? Why are you using your voice like this?’” Muir said. “She had used Twitter and Facebook to help add to the revolution taking place in that square. She had become one of the faces of freedom in Egypt. . . . Days later, President Mubarak was forced out, and I thought of the power of one young woman’s voice.”

Muir told the new graduates that as they make their way in the world, they don’t have to be globetrotting journalists to put the lessons he learned into practice.

“You don’t need a camera or a microphone to have a voice,” Muir said. “I know you already have one. I’m simply here to urge you to use it. We’re incredibly lucky to be in a part of the world where we’re allowed to use our voices, even if we don’t agree with one another. . . . Like that young woman in the square, you have the power to make your own decisions about the world, to shape the world, and to change your world.”

The ceremony, which began with board of trustees chairman C. William Schwab ’68 welcoming the new graduates to the fold of alumni, also included awarding civil rights pioneer Dorothy Cotton an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. Having worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as the education director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in the 1960s, Cotton continues to spread her message of freedom and hope around the world. “We’re all on a journey, as were the people who came before us,” Cotton told the graduates. “We’ll know we’ve reached the end of that journey when the world is working harmoniously. Until that time, keep asking yourselves: What can you do to make a better world?”

The proceedings also included senior class president Danielle Giserman asking her fellow graduates to reflect on the experiences that transformed them into Ithaca College graduates. Whether those experiences were cheering together at football games and gathering for ritual Sunday brunches or volunteering for community service and seeking new ways of learning, the time that the class of 2011 spent on South Hill produced graduates who are passionate, bonded, hard-working and caring.

“No matter where you are going, just promise that you will seek happiness, laughter, and always think with an open mind,” Giserman said. “We are all so lucky to have been given this incredible opportunity to go to Ithaca College. Now it is time to take everything we have gotten from Ithaca and move forward. Follow your dreams, and do not be afraid to fail.”

Following Giserman’s remarks, the senior class officers presented the class gift. Thanks to the participation of 489 seniors, $36,305 was raised, most of which will go to support the library’s Digital Media Lab, which provides space for students to create and edit multimedia projects.

President Tom Rochon then congratulated the ceremony’s oldest graduate, Beryl MacMillen Anderson, who received a master’s degree in music education at the age of 87. Though she enjoyed a long teaching career in music, work and family obligations had forced Anderson to leave the college in 1953 just two credits shy of earning her master’s. At the urging of family and friends she finally returned to finish that degree this year.

In his remarks, Rochon asked the new graduates to consider how profoundly they and the world at large had changed since they began their college studies in 2007.

“When you were freshmen, there had never been an African-American president of the United States, and there was no reason to think there would be one any time soon,” said Rochon. “When you started at IC, there had not yet been a global financial meltdown triggered by misplaced confidence in financial instruments that few people understood.”

Also, at about that time, there was an innovation called the iPhone. Four years later, said Rochon, that device is in its fourth generation, with indications that many more versions are inevitably on the way.

“You may be the ones for whom change is so omnipresent that the only thing that would make you uncomfortable would be to find out that there will not soon be another major advance in the way we stay connected with each other,” said Rochon. “You were born into a world of rapid change, and things have been speeding up ever since.”

Rochon told the graduates they are prepared to meet that challenge.

“You, the graduate of today, are equipped to generate your own answers. More of you than in any previous generation over the last century will work in small businesses. You may work directly with the company’s founder. You might be the company’s founder. You will in any case forge your own path rather than following a path laid down by others.”

In closing, the president referred to the inscription on the medallions passed out to the graduates before the ceremony: “Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.”

“Those words were written by William Faulkner, a Nobel laureate who, in an uncharacteristically brief pair of sentences, offers great wisdom for blazing your own path. . . . I hope you will carry this medallion with you through life, and that you will carry with it the determination to strive always to be better than yourself.”

David Muir