NBC News anchor Lester Holt gives keynote speech at commencement event
MERCED — Award-winning broadcast journalist Lester Holt urged some 321 graduates of the University of California, Merced to become free thinkers and critical consumers of news during his keynote address at the university's annual commencement ceremony Saturday evening.
In his first address at a university commencement, the weekend anchor of "NBC Nightly News" and co-anchor of the weekend edition of "TODAY" also reflected on dramatic, technology-driven changes affecting the news business and traditional news sources.
"You leave here with open minds filled with fresh knowledge," Holt said. "My challenge to you is for you to challenge us and help raise the level of our public discourse. Make us smarter. Force us to open our minds and work through our issues. Teach us to be free thinkers. And even hold those of us in the news media accountable. I know you can make us better."
Holt discussed how the news industry is changing and explained his responsibility as a journalist and the graduates' responsibility as citizens.
"Today we all are enjoying the fruits of the digital era," he said. "Millions of sources of information coming at us at lightning-fast speed. That technology has also democratized the gathering and dissemination of news, allowing for 'citizen journalists' to make their mark, even usurping the role of mainstream news organizations at times."
Among those who participated in the ceremony, which marked the end of UC Merced's fifth academic year, were six students scheduled to receive a master's degree and 12 earning a doctoral degree. Graduation candidates represented 39 California counties, along with two other states (Maryland and Washington) and four countries (Germany, France, Russia and Lebanon).
"I feel a special kinship with the Class of 2010," UC Merced Chancellor Steve Kang said. "Like many of you, I started at UC Merced during its second year of operation. You demonstrated a pioneering spirit by choosing to attend a new university, and you will always be a part of the campus' history."
During the ceremony, Kang awarded UC Merced's distinguished Chancellor's Medal to UC Regents Odessa Johnson and Frederick Ruiz for their support to the university.
Jill Tsai, who is receiving a bachelor's degree in biological sciences, spoke on behalf of this year's class.
"At other universities, students walk through sand in the footprints of the students before them, merely riding on the coattails of their predecessors," Tsai said. "At UC Merced, we have carved through wet concrete to create our own path, a path that will forever be engrained into the foundation of this campus. The college experience for future students will be based on what we have created. No one can ever take away that accomplishment."
Tsai went on to describe how the loss of classmate Hector Barrera-Barraza, who died in an accident on campus in 2007, bonded the Class of 2010 forever.
"Even if you didn't personally know him, you still felt Hector's loss like a missing limb, and that is a true testament to our camaraderie," she said. "And though we will always grieve his loss, we also know that he is looking on proudly at our accomplishments. We go forward to honor his memory."
To read remarks by speakers at UC Merced's 2010 commencement:
UC Merced Chancellor Steve Kang:
Jill Tsai, Class of 2010:
For highlights from Commencement 2010, visit http://commencement.ucmerced.edu/ .