Couric will be the first woman to deliver the address since the University began inviting speakers from outside the campus community in 2001.
In his e-mail, Bermann called Couric a “pioneering woman in an often male-dominated profession,” saying that she was chosen for her work as a journalist as well as her work “championing” cancer awareness, care for wounded veterans and hunger prevention.
“She serves as a model for us as we seek to incorporate service into our post-Princeton lives,” he wrote. “And she will undoubtedly leave us with words to remember long after we graduate.”
Class Day co-chairs Mike Monagle ’09, Davion Chism ’09 and Lily Cowles ’09 worked with officers of the Class of 2009 to create a list of potential speakers. Though seniors were not formally surveyed, their suggestions were considered, Bermann said in an e-mail.
“We considered lots of qualified people suggested by our class, from politicians and comedians to musicians and philanthropists,” Bermann said.
He declined to name other individuals who were considered.
Monagle said in an e-mail that Couric quickly came to mind when the committee set out to select a speaker.
“We immediately thought of Katie Couric because she has an amazing story and has had incredible life experiences,” he said, noting that her engagement in a variety of “service endeavors” reflects the University’s commitment to civic engagement.
While every member of the senior class might not be thrilled with the selection, Associate Dean of Undergraduate Students Thomas Dunne was supportive of the choice.
“For someone of her professional standing to agree to come to speak at the University without receiving honorarium is something really special,” said Dunne, who works with the Class Day co-chairs to secure a speaker each year.
Couric, the first woman to be sole anchor and managing editor of “Evening News,” was a former co-anchor of NBC’s “The Today Show” and a correspondent for “Dateline.” She has won six Emmy awards, the George Foster Peabody Award and the Edward R. Murrow Award.
Since moving to CBS from NBC in 2006, Couric has been criticized as being too inexperienced for the anchor position, which has been held in the past by Walter Cronkite, Dan Rather and Bob Schieffer.
In October 2008, Couric attracted attention for her interviews with former vice-presidential candidate Gov. Sarah Palin (R-Alaska), whose performance was widely criticized. Palin’s staff said she was not well prepared for the interview because her team had not anticipated that Couric would ask difficult questions.
These interviews, Couric told The New York Times, restored the network’s confidence in her abilities.
“There was a period of time when I was being assaulted from all sides,” she said. “For a while, I was told really not to do any interviews on the show, which is of course what I love to do. That wasn’t, in my mind, using me to my full advantage.”
Besides being the first woman invited to speak at Class Day, Couric is also the first journalist.
“She has reported on many of the important events that have shaped our world both before and during our times in college,” Bermann said. “With her front row seat to history, she will be able to offer valuable insights into the world beyond Princeton.”
Significant events that Couric has covered include the Virginia Tech shootings; the executions of Saddam Hussein and Timothy McVeigh; the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001; the Columbine shooting; the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bombing; the Oklahoma City bombing and the Clarence Thomas confirmation. She also co-hosted the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games in 2000, 2002 and 2004.
In 2000, Couric founded the National Colorectal Cancer Research Alliance, an organization that funds cancer research and promotes awareness and education. Couric’s husband, Jay Monahan, died of colon cancer in 1998, and her sister, Emily Couric, died in 2001 of pancreatic cancer.
She has appeared on many television shows to raise cancer awareness, leading researchers to call the subsequent increase in colonoscopies “the Couric effect.”
“We were looking for an accomplished and compelling performer who would be able to draw on a set of unique experiences and perspectives in order to share his or her wisdom and humor with our graduating class,” Bermann said.
In addition to Couric’s address, Class Day will include the presentation of honorary degrees and student awards, as well as the announcement of the next Young Alumni Trustee.
Previous Class Day speakers include comedian Stephen Colbert in 2008, actor Bradley Whitford in 2007 and former president Bill Clinton in 2006.