Katie Couric Offers Career Advice to University of Wisconsin-Madison Grads During Commencement Speech (Video)
"A fulfilling professional life can be found at the intersection of what you love and what you're good at," the anchor said as she delivered the university's commencement speech on Saturday morning. "And when you think you've discovered it, go at it full-throttle."
Katie Couric had some uplifting words of advice to give graduating students of the University of Wisconsin-Madison during her commencement speech on Saturday morning.
"What a day. ... I know you must be feeling so many things right now — relieved, excited, sad, nervous... Maybe a little bit sleepy? Perhaps a tad hungover?" she jokingly began as she took to the podium at Camp Randall Stadium. "But I hope most of you are feeling proud, lucky and grateful."
Couric then delved into the challenge that faces most graduates fresh out of college — finding down the right career path. "The notion of getting hired by one company, climbing the corporate ladder and retiring after 40 years with a gold watch and a pension seems as antiquated as Don Draper and the three-martini lunch," she said.
"Too often graduates rely on serendipity to lead them to the right job and end up stumbling into a career," Couric continued. "Now is the time to consider all the infinite possibilities with introspection, deliberation and thoughtfulness. Visualize the road ahead, think about what excites you — what really gets your engine going. Engage in some real soul-searching. Take a good, hard look at your strengths and weaknesses. ... A fulfilling professional life can be found at the intersection of what you love and what you're good at. And when you think you've discovered it, go at it full-throttle. ... Finding the right work takes work and time. But don't wait forever to find your bliss or you may find yourself 30 and living in your parents' basement eating microwave popcorn and binge-watching re-runs of The O.C."
The Yahoo Global News anchor emphasized the importance of getting oneself noticed, using stories of her humble career beginnings as examples of what could unfold with a little bit of courage. "When I was 22, I worked as a desk assistant at ABC News. I knocked on the door of Don Farmer, who was the correspondent for 20/20, and I presented him with a list of 10 story ideas," she recalled. "I don't think he actually did any of them, but I could tell he was a little surprised and kind of impressed. He noticed, and when he later moved to CNN to do a two-hour news show, he tapped me to become his associate producer."
Couric added, "Don't be afraid to take risks. When I left The Today Show to anchor the CBS Evening News, I remember a note given to me by a colleague. It said, 'A boat is always safe in the harbor, but that's not what boats are built for.' After 15 years of sleep deprivation, I was ready for a new challenge and I jumped at the opportunity to be the first female solo anchor of a network newscast. I thought it was about time. After all, when I started in television some 36 years ago, women were mostly secretaries or production assistants." She admitted that both inside and outside of the network, she faced criticism for taking strides as a woman in a male-dominated industry.
"I guess I'm the poster child for putting myself out there. Because after CBS, I decided I wanted to tackle serious issues on a daytime talk show — as if," she sarcastically joked.
"You'll face painful setbacks, painful disappointments, bruised egos and broken hearts," Couric said. "Work hard, and then work ever harder. There might be days where you'll say, 'I can't. I can't even.' But you can! You can even!"
The former Today anchor made clear to students that "a successful life isn't just about what career path you're on or what milestone you've met or what numbers are on your direct deposit." She noted, "Success is about becoming the kind of person you want to be."
Couric reflected on a recent realization she had when a close friend, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, lost her husband, Dave Goldberg, to head trauma on May 1.
"As the tributes poured in, I noticed the fact that he was the CEO of a big tech company was almost an afterthought," she said, emphasizing the importance of character. " 'Caring and kind, a great mentor and role model, the sweetest friend,' people wrote. They talked about what an incredibly loving and supportive husband and father he was. ... Dave Goldberg was a very successful guy, but his professional accomplishments pale in comparison to the loving words that flowed when they were describing him as a human being."
Couric closed her speech with a moving anecdote about her own personal loss. Her first husband, Jay Monahan, was diagnosed with colon cancer at age 41 and passed away less than a year later.
"From the terrible abyss of loss and longing, I found my purpose," the anchor shared, telling the audience that throughout her career as a television journalist, being a cancer advocate is what she is most proud of.
"You are the engineers of social justice. You've shown you care about what happens in places like Ferguson, Baltimore and Madison. You've shown you care about gay rights, women's rights, and human rights. ... As the most diverse generation in history, you will witness and embrace the dynamism and vibrancy of a pluralistic society — a beautiful patchwork of people with unique perspectives, but shared goals," Couric concluded. "Keep asking questions, keep demanding change."