Savannah Guthrie delivered the commencement address for George Washington University graduates Sunday on the National Mall. Her biggest message to them: Go big or go home.
Not in those words, exactly.
The NBC “TODAY Show” host told the graduates stories about how her life took unexpected turns. She didn’t get too deeply personal in her remarks and kept it career-focused.
She even admitted she had no idea what her graduation speaker said or who it was.
“Best case scenario, you get some useful life advice,” she said. “Worst case scenario, you remember nothing.”
Guthrie, who graduated from the University of Arizona and Georgetown Law School and aced the Arizona bar exam, said she had her work all plotted. After college, she had a prestigious clerkship lined up with a federal judge. “I still had that nagging hope that one day I could really make it in television news,” she said. “And so, what I did next was insane and unthinkable. I quit, before I even started.”
A few months later, Guthrie got a gig with Court TV.
She noted that life’s path isn’t predictable. And how she felt like ‘a loser” when she landed a TV job in Butte, Montana and lost the job 10 days later when the station closed.
Still, she told the students to dream big.
“It was a zig-zagging, dotted, sometimes broken line, with pauses and detours and beginnings that ended too soon and endings that turned out to be beginnings,” she said, advising graduates to think big and then head in that “general direction.”
And she warned them that things will get hard.
“Your blossoming and your growth—which is to say, your success—is always, always, inevitably, on the other side of a risk,” she said. “It’s on the other side of a bold choice. It’s on the edge, waiting for you, on the other side of your fear.”
She told them sometimes a leap will “stick”—and sometimes it won’t—but “there is no wasted opportunity.”
Like many graduation speeches, Guthrie put in an eloquent plug for failure:
“Your obstacles, your broken places, the spots where you’ve healed, the things you’ve overcome—this is the source of your strength, and it also is the source of your beauty.”
She had sage advice: 1. “Don’t waste your time feeling old when you’re young.” 2. Don’t compare yourself to others. 3. “Don’t worry so much. …Life can handle a few of your missteps — even the biggies.” And 4. A Washington version of stop and smell the flowers: “Don’t miss the monuments.”
Guthrie has had her own rough spots. She perhaps left the biggest one out of her speech. At 16, Guthrie lost her father to a sudden heart attack. She peppered her speech with thoughts on faith. In a blog post for Guideposts, she wrote about relying heavily on God and biblical passages, especially after her father’s death, during the rocky phases of her career and the birth of her first child at 42.
“To me, at 16, it felt like a betrayal of everything I’d believed in,” she wrote. “How could God let this happen to my dad—a good man who was only in his forties? How could he do this to our family?”
Guthrie’s go-to Bible passage: “Psalm 62:8, became my watchword: ‘Trust in him at all times. Pour out your hearts to him,'” Guthrie wrote. “I certainly did. I turned my loneliness, my frustration, my mistakes, over to God and told myself to be patient.”
GWU gave honorary doctor of public service degrees to Guthrie and Cindy McCain, the late wife of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
McCain said she owed her honor to her late husband, who taught her sacrifice, character-driven leadership, generosity, humor and dignity. She told the graduates to lead with their hearts.
“Please remember, always be true to yourself, do everything you do from your heart,” she said. “Listen to your heart.”