Savannah Guthrie landed a job in broadcast television right out of college – only to be fired 10 days later after the station shut down.
But if it wasn’t for her setback, she said, she would have never found work at a “better” newsroom afterward using the skills she learned from her 10-day stint. Guthrie said her experience of finding work, hitting rock bottom and then seeking the motivation to bounce back taught her “there is no wasted opportunity.”
Guthrie, now the co-anchor of the NBC News morning show “Today,” called on graduates to embrace risks and enjoy their journeys to success at the University’s Commencement ceremony on the National Mall Sunday. She told students that the most formative experiences in their lives will come from how they handle their biggest challenges.
Guthrie said she thought about what she would have wanted to know when she moved to D.C. for the first time to prepare for her Commencement address.
“And then it hit me,” Guthrie said. “It’s simple. Power it off, then power it back on. It’s not a metaphor. When your device freezes, you should try that. It often works.”
After graduating from the University of Arizona and working in broadcast journalism for several years, Guthrie said she put her dream of being a journalist on hold to go to law school at Georgetown University. She said after she graduated, she secured a position as a clerk for a federal judge that was “the kind of opportunity that young lawyers clamor for,” but she realized it was not her dream and quit to pursue journalism once again.
Guthrie urged graduates to embrace the challenges they face in their careers and personal lives after graduation and not to focus too much on achieving a certain end goal or level of success.
“The effort, the things you learn, the skills you acquire on the way, and most importantly, the people you keep company with – that is the whole point,” Guthrie said.
She told graduates she has read several books about people who have climbed Mount Everest and experienced “summit fever,” in which they became so set on reaching the top that they physically wore themselves out. She warned students to avoid experiencing their own “summit fever” and instead take time to enjoy the moments in their journey.
“Things have a way of working out and life can handle a few of your missteps – even your biggies,” Guthrie said. “The times you ruined your life, you didn’t. You may leave your path, but your path doesn’t leave you.”
Commencement was held at the base of the Washington Monument in intense heat. More than 26,000 graduates, family members and friends attended the ceremony, which began at about 9:30 a.m. and was led by Provost Forrest Maltzman.
Graduates also heard remarks from University President Thomas LeBlanc, recipients of honorary degrees and Tyriana Evans, a member of the Class of 2019.
LeBlanc charged the graduating class to maintain their “commitment to a lifetime of learning.” He said students should work to expand their empathy for others.
“We cannot and we should not ignore our differences,” he said. “We are better when we understand them and when we learn from them.”
LeBlanc awarded honorary degrees to Guthrie, aerospace scientist Christine Darden and philanthropist Cindy McCain for their achievements and contributions to their respective fields. The recipients were introduced by graduates Matthew Lish, Peak Sen Chua and Samantha Lemieux, respectively.
Darden said that when she started college, she followed her father’s suggestion to get a teaching certificate in mathematics and physics because she felt less prepared than her classmates, who had had the chance to take more advanced math classes in high school.
But she said she continued to challenge herself and take advanced classes, which prepared her to become a research assistant and pursue a master’s degree in applied mathematics before joining the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
“I did what my dad suggested, but I also decided to take a step in solving this roadblock that I had run into,” Darden said.
She said graduates should evaluate what they enjoy doing and what they are passionate about to decide where to work if they are not currently certain about their path.
“Try to move in that direction and to move or go around any roadblocks or detours that you may encounter,” she said. “Most important, however, keep moving and persist.”
McCain told students to continue to live with grace and humility, two things she learned from her late husband, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
“I’d like you to remember that in the decisions and the things that you will make as you leave this University today, please remember, always be true to yourself,” McCain said. “Do everything you do from your heart.”
Evans, who received her degree in journalism and mass communication at the ceremony, told graduates they have already conquered many of their fears – like the fear of being away from home, not making friends and not passing a class – and encouraged them to continue to do so using what they have learned during their time at GW.
“In spite of every opposition, you made it,” Evans said. “You are the epitome of perseverance, never giving up, triumphing time and time again.”
Lizzie Mintz contributed reporting.