Broadcast journalist Soledad O'Brien delivered the address at the University of Delaware's 163rd Commencement Saturday morning in Delaware Stadium, which was crowded with several thousand Class of 2012 graduates, faculty, and family members.
O'Brien began her address by saying she would not give out advice. She said while growing up, her mother's only advice to her was that most people are idiots.
She said that throughout her life, she'd been told that recent college graduates would worry about achieving goals, being successful, and finding a career. College graduates will be told they will fail at reaching their goals and that it is impossible to be successful doing something they love, she said.
“Let's agree that we're going to ignore all the idiots today,” O'Brien said.
O'Brien told stories about her parents' interracial relationship when it was still taboo in the U.S., her journalistic work with minorities living in America and her reports on disaster relief in Haiti.
As a college graduate, she said, she was concerned with the same things as the students seated in front of her, but O'Brien said she was asking the wrong questions about her future.
She said learning the stories and differences of the people around her were the most important questions for her to ask - and the stories she learned the most from.
“When you seek to listen, you can make a huge impact,” she said. “Remember even as you calculate your student-loan debt and your first-apartment debt, your real debt is to the people around you, your fellow man.”
O'Brien also spoke lightheartedly when she said students should not fear losing their strong connection to the university after graduation.
“This university will be part of your life forever,” she said. “The Alumni Association will hunt you down.”
O'Brien, who anchors a morning news program on CNN and hosts the “In America” documentary series, said she has been speaking at commencements for about 20 years. Now, she speaks at a couple of commencements each year, she said.
College is about sticking it out until graduation, she said. Perseverance in school is about making it through issues with finances, family support, and academic mentoring, she said.
“I love this age,” she said. “It's full of optimism and full of hope.”
More than 4,200 graduates were awarded degrees at the ceremony including doctoral, master's, bachelor's, and associate in arts degrees. Graduates represented 38 states and 18 countries. The crowd of family and friends brought the total number of Commencement attendees to about 22,000.