Updated Wednesday, Jan. 19, 1:50 p.m.
Longtime “60 Minutes” correspondent Andy Rooney will keynote the University’s May 22 Commencement ceremony on The Ellipse.
President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg called the CBS journalist a “man at the peak of a long and interesting career who has devoted himself to thinking out complex issues and sharing them with the rest of the country.”
“I think he’s very interesting,” said Trachtenberg, the first University official to confirm Rooney’s speaker selection, in an interview Wednesday. “I think we’ll get a very good talk.”
Rooney’s granddaughter, a GW student, informed The Hatchet on Tuesday about the University’s Commencement speaker selection. She requested that her name be witheld because of the sensitivities involved with disclosing a Commencement speaker months before GW announces it. University officials typically release information about speakers on May 1.
Rooney said he accepted an invitation in December to speak at the graduation ceremony, following a meeting between Trachtenberg and his granddaughter.
“Someone called me and asked if I’d do it and I said yes,” Rooney said in a phone interview Tuesday from his CBS office in New York. “It wasn’t a big deal.”
Rooney, who will deliver the event’s main address, will be joined on stage by other honorary degree recipients who have yet to be chosen, Trachtenberg said. Any additional speakers will likely make brief remarks. Rooney will not be paid.
At last year’s Commencement, which had no keynote speaker, four people – including Nobel Prize winner Leon Lederman and former Gen. John Shalikashvili – delivered five-minute speeches.
Rooney, who has spoken at several graduation ceremonies, said he does not yet know what he will say to the more than 20,000 students, parents and alumni that will gather between the White House and the National Mall on May 22.
He said he will not address a discredited “60 Minutes II” report about President Bush’s National Guard Service. Earlier this month, CBS fired several senior executives for their handling of the October report, which suggested that Bush evaded his military duties while serving in the National Guard.
“It’s fun to do a graduation speech,” Rooney said. “For the rest of your life, people come up to you in the street and say, ”Hey, you did my graduation speech.'”
Seniors greeted the choice of Rooney with enthusiasm, saying he is a well-known personality who should entertain attendees of all ages.
“It’s good to have someone that the whole audience can relate to,” Katie Powers said. “Sometimes that’s someone on TV.”
“I think it’s a lot better than having the president of another university come to talk to us,” said Heather Spearmint, referring to Brown University President Ruth Simmons, who delivered the 2002 Commencement address. “Because I thought that was stupid.”
Senior Dan Frank said Rooney was his high school graduation speaker and “is actually really funny.”
Rooney, 86, joined CBS in 1949 as a writer. “A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney” became a regular segment on “60 Minutes” in 1978. He has won three Emmys for his work.
Though he has no connection to the GW beyond his granddaughter, Rooney said he liked D.C. and the University.
“I like it,” said Rooney, noting that he always saw students when he stayed at a hotel near campus. “It seems like a good school.”
Asked what he thought about the recent cancellation of CNN’s “Crossfire,” a show that broadcasts from GW, Rooney displayed his famous ability to deliver succinct criticisms: “I was not a big fan of ‘Crossfire.’ I thought they did much more yelling than talking and didn’t resolve any issues.”