Gwen Ifill Inspires HNU Class of 2012

by Constance Dalton

Dr. William J. Hynes, President of Holy Names University, had just introduced Gwen Ifill as a journalistic hero “who does her homework” and “is not afraid of evasive answers.” Ifill might be the moderator and managing editor of Washington Week and senior correspondent for PBS NewsHour, but looking out at the Holy Names Class of 2012 on May 12, she reached out to the nervous group for whom she was the Commencement speaker. With wisdom and humor she began by congratulating the graduates, telling them, “It’s all about you, not about me.”

Gwen Ifill, President Hynes and Regents of HNU pplauding Class of 2012. Photo by Constance Dalton.

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Observing that half of the class were the first in their families to graduate from college, Ifill told them they were among the elite, but “You\'re not better, only more enlightened.” Turning to their parents, she observed that they “were never more happy and more relieved than today.” Ifill continued to challenge the graduates: “How many times have you been counted out? You beat the critics at their own game. Don’t let them render you invisible.” Urging the graduates to find their place in the world, Ifill noted that “The differences among us don’t always have to be decided by grievances.” She said, to thunderous applause, that graduates should expect to be treated as equal in all ways, and that they should remember their children will not be inferior.

Stating that she did not envy them the current job market, Ifill remarked that individuals might feel small. “You are small but mighty” she said. “You can do it.” She reminded them that they should work toward a future that will be as creative as it is duty-filled. Finally, Ifill challenged the graduates before leaving on Saturday to fix a flawed relationship, whether with a classmate, professor or relative. “You have been given a flashlight,” she said. “Shine it into the corners.”

Dr. Hynes had described the reactions of various Sisters of the Holy Names, whose order founded Holy Names University, when he asked about inviting Ifill as the Commencement speaker. The Sisters were enthusiastic: “She is our model of professional leadership.” In years to come, the Class of 2012 will remember with wonder that a nationally known, Peabody Award-winning journalist was their Commencement speaker. Gwen Ifill will remember that she met the future on May 12, 2012, and the future shines with promise.