Times columnist Herbert to speak at commencent

Maija Anstine

Columnist Bob Herbert of The New York Times will be awarded an honorary doctorate June 14, and he will give the commencement speech to graduating seniors. President Jill Beck knows Herbert through his wife Deborah Bial, the founder and head of the 28-university Posse program, and asked Herbert to speak.
Herbert said the doctorate is “a tremendous honor.” As for the commencement address, Herbert said, “I’m thrilled. I have a particular interest in college students. They have such a responsibility in this time in our history. I love listening to them; I love the give and take.”
Herbert has a twofold plan for his speech, intending to speak about graduates’ responsibility both to themselves and to their community. “People shouldn’t have to put their dreams on hold,” continued Herbert, “but it’s a mistake to ignore the things around you.”
In explaining his belief that civic engagement is at the heart of national progress, Herbert said, “I’d like to see everyone take some affirmative step in the civic affairs of the nation, a participatory step.”
“At some point, you hit a critical mass if more people begin to do it,” continued Herbert. “You can’t coerce people into doing it; it has to become a way of life.”
Herbert stressed how he did not want to “give a short shrift” to personal dreams, emphasizing the importance of taking time for oneself, as well.
He added, “The time you’re sending 100 pointless e-mails is the time you could be spending holding one person’s hand.”
“People shouldn’t talk so much. Just listen, and if there’s silence, you just enjoy that silence. Those quiet workings of the mind are really important. We become more ourselves,” said Herbert.
He also explained how taking time for one’s self can benefit society, saying that as “these thoughts emerge, you begin to get a better grasp of what to do with yourself.”
Herbert lamented the society that college students’ generation inherits. “My generation came into much better circumstances … with a lot of problems and a lot of promise,” Herbert said, referencing the issues of racism, homophobia, the Cold War, college affordability and job availability.
“We weren’t good stewards, handing off a state of affairs much more problematic than what we inherited: a bad economy, two wars … jobs are hard to come by and kids in college are emerging with debt,” said Herbert. “It will be in large part the responsibility of young people to set these things right.”
Herbert holds confidence in this generation, however, saying, “The economy will get better. Don’t waste time in this downturn. Learn as much in this period as you can, and when it turns around, you’ll have a leg-up on everyone else.”
Surviving until then, Herbert explained, will take perseverance. “Be relentless. It’s so important to get that first job. Keep sending résumés, taking interviews, pounding the pavement.”
Herbert compared the process to entering college. “It’s like being a freshman. It’s not the same scary world after a few months.”
Bob Herbert has been an op-ed columnist at The New York Times since 1993, focusing on politics, urban issues and social trends. Before then, he was a national correspondent for NBC, a reporter and editor for The Daily News, and the host of New York Public Television’s “Hotline.