In surprise appearances at a virtual celebration for the School of Communication and Media on May 21, Rachel Maddow and Stephen Colbert offered words of encouragement to graduates in a time of uncertainty.
Maddow likened this COVID Class of 2020 to the last class to graduate in the middle of a global pandemic, reading from the yearbook of the Class of 1919, at a time when Montclair State was known as the New Jersey State Normal School at Montclair.
“Like those guys 100 years ago, you really are graduating into a huge, weird historical moment,” she said.
As those graduates in 1919 also missed out on senior-year rituals, their “enforced vacation” due to the Spanish flu, Maddow shared how the earlier generation framed their college experience.
“In many ways our career here has been an unusual one,” Maddow read from the 1919 yearbook. “Probably the work of no class has been so broken-in-upon by unusual happenings as has ours.”
Montclair State’s connections within the media made for a memorable virtual celebration for the School of Communication and Media graduates at a time when mandatory separation has postponed in-person graduation ceremonies until it’s safer to gather together. Broadcast live on YouTube, the star-studded event also included a guest appearance by Poison singer Bret Michaels, a friend and supporter of Montclair State radio station WMSC-FM.
Colbert, a Montclair neighbor, recorded a message from his home. The world of communication and broadcasting “still goes on in its own strange way, as I can attest if you’ve seen me doing my show (The Late Show with Stephen Colbert) from the guest bedroom.”
Maddow, host of The Rachel Maddow Show, recorded the segment on her set, flashing graphics and pull quotes from the old yearbook. “At the very end of this similarly feeling history,” Maddow said the Class of 1919 wrote a message “I believe they intended for you.”
“As we look back upon our whole career from our present position,” students wrote in 1919, “it comes to us that we have reason to doubt the soundness of that saying, ‘happy are they whose annals are simple,’ for our annals have not been thus, but we have indeed been happy here. We have but one wish – may those who come be as happy.”
Using the opportunity to impart advice, Maddow said, “Happiness obviously doesn’t come from living a simple, perfect uninterrupted life. It comes from navigating the challenges and the joys of the complicated, weird life that you actually do get to live.”
For Carly D. Henriquez, a Communication and Media Arts major from Orange, New Jersey, having Maddow as the surprise speaker was “truly a full-circle moment for me.”
Henriquez spent her senior year as an intern with the MSNBC weekend production team, AM Joy, and had an opportunity to meet the star host while on the job at 30 Rock.
“I loved the message she gave us because she showed us that we are not alone and we can make the most of our short time here,” Henriquez said.
The new Montclair State graduate has been hired by NBCUniversal to work with graphics and anchor producing.
To graduates uncertain of the road ahead, Colbert offered encouragement.
“Whatever is on the other side of all this strangeness right now, the show must and will go on. And the nice thing about show business or whatever form of communications you go into – since it takes everything human beings know how to do: writing, singing, dancing, directing, lighting, sound, music, art, painting, construction, driving, organizing, feeding people, doing the books – there is something for you, there is a place for you in this industry, whenever this industry becomes the industry again.”
WMSC Radio shared messages earlier in the week from David Brancaccio, host of The Marketplace Morning Report, Tom Kaminski from WCBS/PIX11 News, and Eddie Trunk from Trunk Nation on SiriusXM.
The virtual celebration was hosted by Keith Strudler, director of the School of Communication and Media. It was typical of the top speakers and industry connections that are regularly part of the School’s programming.
“I believe having a graduation celebration like this is a reminder of what a special place our School is, its high regard in the professional world, and the opportunities our students have in reaching their goals,” Strudler said.
Story by Staff Writer Marilyn Joyce Lehren.
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