Calling it his "best weekend in 20 years," NBC-TV "Today" show co-host Matt Lauer took the podium at Ohio University's undergraduate morning commencement June 14 and told the graduates that character and personal relationships are more important than fame, success or the increasing allure of high technology.
"There are times when we make far too much of technology and not enough of the basic human qualities that make us who we are today, qualities that people seem to be forgetting at a record pace -- kindness, compassion and character," Lauer said in a humorous and entertaining speech. "While the high-tech world asks you to surf the Net, I'm asking you to go out of your way for a friend. While the high-tech world tells you to log on or download audio, I'm telling you to pick up the phone and call someone who needs to hear your voice."
It was a message that resonated with graduates, who rose quickly to a standing ovation. A record 3,350 Ohio University undergraduate students participated in two commencement ceremonies June 14 at the Convocation Center. First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, making her third trip to the Athens campus since 1992, addressed the afternoon session.
Lauer, 39, who attended Ohio University from 1975 to 1979, joined College of Communication students in receiving a degree. He completed a written report on his work experience to earn his final four credits and a bachelor's degree in telecommunications.
Mrs. Clinton used her speech to reinforce President Clinton's call for racial unity at a commencement address he delivered the same day at the University of California-San Diego. President Clinton's major policy speech focused on a new national initiative on race relations.
"For these young men and women graduating, there has never been more possibility awaiting them, there has never been a greater opportunity for America to lead the way, and I hope that each of you will have the chance to bring America closer to its full promise of equality for all," Mrs. Clinton told the 1,650 undergraduates and 12,000 onlookers attending the afternoon commencement.
Mrs. Clinton was among four individuals who received honorary degrees at the undergraduate ceremonies. The others were Robert D. Walter, chairman and CEO of Cardinal Health Inc. in Columbus, Tokyo artist Frederick Harris, and Hong Kong publisher Sally Aw Sian.
Saturday's ceremonies attracted wide media coverage, including television stations from Columbus, Cincinnati, Dayton and West Virginia; newspapers from as far away as Toledo and Chicago; and People magazine, which was planning a pictorial on Lauer's return to Athens. The next week, Lauer 's degree was a topic of discussion on "Today" and "The Late Show" with David Letterman.
On June 13, Professor of Chemistry Gary Small, winner of the 1996 Outstanding Graduate Faculty Award, keynoted the advanced degree commencement for nearly 800 master's Ph.D. and doctor of osteopathy degree recipients.