Ann Curry came home to Ashland to accept an honorary doctorate in communication and the NBC newswoman urged 1,120 graduates that — despite tough economic times, war, terrorism and man-made disasters — they are entering a world of increasing compassion and opportunities to be a force for good.
Curry, a graduate of Ashland High School and the University of Oregon, began her TV news career at KTVL in Medford, moving to NBC in 1990 and making her mark reporting stories of the heroism of ordinary people in war-torn hot spots of the world.
SOU's 84th commencement saw the presentation of 874 bachelor's and 343 master's degrees.
Curry's message to grads is one told to her by the Dalai Lama a few weeks ago, she said, of optimism that this century will be happier than the last because of the growth of human compassion — as seen in the outpouring of help and caring after the Haiti earthquake.
"Empathy offers us our best hope for the future," said Curry, noting that only a few generations ago genocide, child labor and lynching of blacks were accepted practices but are now egregious crimes.
"The election (of a black president) is evidence of our increasing capacity to see ourselves in others, even though there are stragglers and extremists in all times," said Curry.
An anchor with "Dateline NBC" and "Today," Curry recalled a happy childhood in Ashland, where her father, Bob Curry — after a 30-year career in the military — attended SOU to become a teacher and dedicate himself to a life of service at Gold Hill Junior High School.
"My dad heard of this lovely, small town of Ashland and it was his lifelong dream to become a teacher," she said. "He was raised poor by a single mother and became the first in his family to graduate from college."
As a child, said Curry, she would ask her father what she should do with her life and he'd say to do something of service to others and that way, on your last day, it will matter that you were here.
Curry drew gales of laughter imitating the chiding accent of her mother, a Japanese national who married her dad while he was stationed in Japan after World War II. Curry recalled being "chubby and insecure" while growing up — and her mother would tell her to marry a rich man and, in TV, stop wearing so much eyeliner, as "it makes you look like a raccoon."
Curry reminded grads of great people — Washington, Lincoln, Gandhi, Mother Teresa — who faced huge obstacles but went on to reshape the world because they had a dream and never gave up.
"Doing good for others is the most selfish thing you can do," she said. "I promise you it will make you happy. ... Don't just be good, be great. Figure out what your moral compass is and remember to hug your parents. They're more precious than you realize."
Curry brought down the house in crowded Raider Stadium making light of her recent gaffe at Wheaton College in Massachusetts, naming prominent grads, but they were from the Wheaton College in Illinois.
"That can happen when you Google while drunk, which I don't recommend," she joked.
Curry, in an interview, said she has seen major changes in her 20 years in network news, including the expansion of highly opinionated and political cable news shows and the shift to the internet as the basic news source.
"What you see on cable networks is a lot like talk radio — sometimes it's journalism and sometimes not. We're going to see a lot more news on the Internet. It will all end up online. There will be a lot of diversity, but the true need is for unbiased news.
"We're in a phase now, one that represents the tenor of our times. We will see an insistence on credibility — news that's worth viewers' time — balanced and shooting for the truth."
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.