Political Commentator Eleanor Clift Challenges Brenau University Graduates To Embrace Change And Opportunity

World-shaping politics, ‘the best and worst of human behavior,’ means hard-won rights can be easily lost

Eleanor Clift speaks to the graduating students of the Brenau University undergraduate and graduate program during commencement Saturday.

Eleanor Clift speaks to the graduating students of the Brenau University undergraduate and graduate program during commencement Saturday.

GAINESVILLE, Ga., May 4, 2013 – Eleanor Clift, one of America’s foremost political columnist and commentators, told Brenau University graduates Saturday to take advantage of the enormous opportunities the world affords them but cautioned them to be prepared to adapt quickly to a rapidly changing world.

She also urged the graduates to become and stay politically active in their lives especially by voting and engaging “in the civic life of your community and your country.”

“In other countries people will crawl over broken glass to cast a vote, so please always vote,” she said. “It is your basic ticket to a democratic society. And, it is important because rights that are hard-won can be taken away. There is always more to do.”

Clift addressed the group from those among the 589 in the class of 2013 who were on hand to receive undergraduate and graduate diplomas from programs offered on all Brenau campuses around Georgia and from its nationally acclaimed online studies. Combined with 149 who were eligible to graduate from the Brenau University Women’s College at its May 3 ceremony, the university awarded 738 degrees for the year.

For more than 40 years Clift has worked as a reporter and columnist for Newsweek magazine and the print publication’s successor, the DailyBeast/Newsweek Web publication. She is also a regular panelist on the top-rated Washington-based public affairs talk show, The McLaughlin Group, as well as a frequent commentator on breaking news and emerging issues on other national television news and talk programs.

However, she started her career at the magazine in the 1960s when it did not allow women to be reporters, editors or writers. The same was true, she said, for women throughout a society in which “opportunities for women in those days were very compact – secretary, nurse, teacher, homemaker. I never dreamed that I could be a reporter.”

Vanessa Larrick waves her diploma as her mother Martha takes her photograph. Larrick received her Master of Science in Occupational Therapy degree during the Brenau University undergraduate and graduate commencement services Saturday in the First Baptist Church in Gainesville.

Vanessa Larrick waves her diploma as her mother Martha takes her photograph. Larrick received her Master of Science in Occupational Therapy degree during the Brenau University undergraduate and graduate commencement services Saturday in the First Baptist Church in Gainesville.

Clift said that she was a primary beneficiary of a celebrated lawsuit that helped break down barriers for women in the Newsweek magazine’s “Mad Men” world of the 1960s. She had started her career there in the secretarial pool in New York. She moved up to researcher and subsequently was promoted to “Girl Friday,” or technically the office manager, in the Atlanta bureau of the magazine. Because of the lawsuit settlement, however, she was able to crack into the reporting ranks, covering the unexpected rise of a then little-known politician, Jimmy Carter, who would become president of the United States in 1977. She followed Carter to Washington as Newsweek’s White House correspondent, and she has covered every president since then.

However, Clift also stressed that her success since has been partly attributable to her adaptability to the changes in journalism as people move away from print media toward television, Internet-based publications and other “new media” as their sources of information.

“I started as a reporter and I am now a multi-platform content provider, which means I have to perform in all media,” she explained. Sometimes, she added, that means “I think I need to Tweet more and think less.”

“It has been a difficult transition for me…. When I started, reporters were always on the sidelines, observing. Today’s reporters insert themselves into the story more. I have to tell myself, and I tell you, get over it and adapt. Adaptability equals survivability, so go forth and adapt, and enjoy all the wonderful possibilities that are out there for you.”

“I am here to tell you that you are graduating into a world today of almost limitless possibilities – far more than I was able to see when I was making my way through the early days of my career. But you are also taking this ticket into a world of extraordinarily rapid change.”

Christina Hamlin, looks to her husband Damian as her daughter Melia adjusts her mortarboard.

Christina Hamlin looks to her husband Damian as her daughter Melia adjusts her mortarboard.

She even offered some advice to President Obama. When he was first elected, she said, “he won on hope. But he is looking kind of beaten down these days, so even he has to look within himself to find that hope, too, because hope is contagious. Being optimistic costs you nothing.”

Brenau University President Ed L. Schrader presented Clift with an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.

“Eleanor Clift was a true pioneer and courageous leader and role model for both women and men in the media,” said Schrader. “She has distinguished herself over more than four decades as an internationally renowned political reporter, columnist and television commentator.”

The ceremony for the first time in 25 years was to have been held on the front lawn of the historic 134-year-old campus, but inclement weather forced a change in venue to a large, indoor facility at the First Baptist Church of Gainesville.

OTHER HONORS

In addition to the honorary degree for Clift, Brenau also cited students for outstanding achievement:

Andrea McConchie Lyle of Cumming, Ga., an undergraduate accounting major, was recognized for outstanding academic achievement.

Two Master of Business Administration recipients earned academic honors as top graduate students: Lawana Waters Bryan, from Oakwood, Ga., who specialized in healthcare management in the M.B.A. program, and Kerry William Edwards of Gainesville, who received an M.B.A. in accounting.

THE NUMBERS

The May 4 ceremony was one of two commencements scheduled during the weekend for Brenau. The Brenau University Women’s College on Friday, May 3, had 149 female undergraduates eligible to receive diplomas. An additional 589 from other Brenau campuses and online programs were eligible to receive undergraduate and graduate degrees at Saturday’s ceremony. That number includes 17 students who actually received undergraduate degrees from the Women’s College as well as master’s degrees in interior design and occupational therapy in joint degree programs.

Among the 738 total degrees Brenau University will award for 2013, 114 went to male students. The total included 246 undergraduate degrees and 353 graduate degrees.

The total also included 194 degrees awarded to students enrolled in Brenau’s nationally acclaimed online programs.

Brenau’s newest campus, South Atlanta at Fairburn, had its second graduating class represented with 10 degree recipients. There were also 117 degrees conferred to students at the North Atlanta campus in Norcross, 73 to Augusta campus students, 32 to students from Kings Bay on the Georgia coast, and to 134 non-Women’s College students on the Gainesville campus.

MP3: Eleanor Clift May 4, 2013 Commencement Speech at Brenau University

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