WASHINGTON, PA (May 18, 2015) – Nearly 300 graduating Washington & Jefferson College (W&J) Presidents entered a new stage of their lives with advice from one of the nation’s leading journalists and political commentators, Howard Fineman, Global Editorial Director of the Huffington Post Media Group, and keynote speaker of W&J’s May 16 Commencement Ceremony.
Fineman, a native of nearby Pittsburgh, started by telling the class, “You graduates probably think that I’m going to tell you all to put down and turn off your mobile phones. That, in fact, is essential for living lives sanely and well. But for now, please Snapchat, Vine, Tweet, Instagram, Facebook, Meerkat, Periscope, Skype, Gchat text, email, anything you want, while I take a panoramic picture of this scene…We want to go viral here in Washington County, Pennsylvania.”
In his remarks, Fineman cautioned that the Class of 2015 is headed toward an ever-changing future, rooted in an information age unlike any before it. He said the students’ time at W&J has prepared them to take the lead in all aspects of their lives, from their personal career choices to their influence on highly divisive upcoming elections, and in their daily communication with, and understanding of, the world around them.
“The education you got here is the best possible preparation for becoming what you must become in the age of social media, digitally distributed news, instant access to big data. You’ve got to sort it out, and you’ve got the education to do it,” Fineman said. “Today, information is not only cheap, it’s overwhelming…which makes wisdom, discerning wisdom, that much more rare and that much more needed…As you go forward in whatever career you choose, whatever life you lead, I hope you will also take time to be citizen editors, to find meaning and moral essence in the noise, and find ways to contribute to the ongoing conversation that is our country.”
Fineman received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from W&J. He emphasized the importance of a liberal arts education because it involves “face to face, person to person, heart to heart” connection, as well as a strong sense of community, and how the W&J experience helped prepare the Class of 2015.
W&J also awarded honorary degrees to: Tony and Grammy award winner Billy Porter (honorary Doctor of Fine Arts); civil rights activist Thomas Gaither, Ph.D. (honorary Doctor of Laws); and The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, chief pastor to the Episcopal Church, who received an honorary Doctor of Divinity and was the keynote speaker for W&J’s Baccalaureate Service on May 15.
“You should be proud of what you’ve achieved. You’ve gotten an amazing education at this wonderful liberal arts college, one of the oldest and most distinguished in America,” Fineman said. “The only constant in life is change, and you are prepared for that in every possible way.”
Fineman’s work includes the widely-recognized November 2001 Newsweek cover story featuring the first extensive interview since Sept. 11, 2001 with George W. Bush and the “Bush and God” series, which won the 2003 National Magazine Award for General Excellence. His time with Newsweek spanned more than 20 years, and saw him in the roles of Chief Political Correspondent, Deputy Washington Bureau Chief, and later as Senior Editor.
He began his post as Editorial Director of the Huffington Post Media Group in 2010, and was named Global Editorial Director in 2015. Fineman is the author of best-selling book, “The Thirteen American Arguments.”
In his remarks, Fineman also previewed the 2016 Presidential election, telling graduates, “You millennials, and you are sort of the last of the millennials, are the undecided of the undecided. In 2008 and 2012 you were crucial in deciding those elections. Republicans want back into the conversation. There is going to be a ton of money spent and a lot of effort given over to winning your vote. The campaigns and the billionaires who fund them will want to convince you, to woo you, to inspire you, but maybe also to confuse or depress you. They will want to tell you some truths, but they will also want to tell you something lesser than that. They will show you video with context and without. And I want to go on to say that this next presidential election will be the nastiest and most brutal of modern times. That’s an easy prediction to make because they all are. But this one I think especially so. There will be too much money chasing too few votes. Hope may matter less than fear, I fear. Independent PACs, you knows those billionaire dark money PACS, they will be free to go negative without shame or restraint, so you are going to have to sort it out.”
Fineman also addressed current events, mentioning Washington & Jefferson College alum NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Class of 1981, saying, ‘There is only one other president I need to meet, another W&J president, and of course he is the most powerful person on the planet. I speak of course of Commissioner Roger Goodell, W&J class of ’81. Barack Obama can blow up the world. Roger Goodell can blow up the New England Patriots. That is the power of a W&J Education.”
Fineman ended his address to the W&J Class of 2015 by relaying seven rules, which he called the “Seven C’s”: curiosity, critical thinking, content, be calm, have compassion, connect, and – most importantly – exercise conscience.
“You need an internal moral compass to discern what’s important…W&J has lit that celestial fire within you. Now go and light the way for us all.”
Washington & Jefferson College, located in Washington, Pa., is a selective liberal arts college founded in 1781. Committed to providing each of its students with the highest quality undergraduate education available, W&J offers a traditional arts and sciences curriculum emphasizing interdisciplinary study and independent study work.