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CNN Anchor Jake Tapper Urges Dartmouth Class of 2017 to Persevere

  • Holding his honorary degree, Dartmouth College alumni Jake Tapper acknowledges the applause by President Phil Hanlon, left, and the crowd after Tapper's commencement address in Hanover, N.H., on June 11, 2017. Tapper is chief Washington correspondent an an anchor for CNN. He graduated from Dartmouth in 1991. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Dartmouth College doctoral degree recipients watch the Jumbotron and laugh at references to college life in speaker Jake Tapper's address at the college's annual commencement in Hanover, N.H., on June 11, 2017. Tapper graduated from Dartmouth in 1991 and is chief Washington correspondent an an anchor for CNN. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • C. Fordham von Reyn, of Thetford, Vt., acknowledges his fellow Dartmouth class of 1967 graduates in the crowd while receiving an honorary Doctor of Science degree at the college in Hanover, N.H., on June 11, 2017. von Reyn is a professor at the Geisel School of Medicine and was honored for his work in the prevention of infectious diseases. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Allen Fan, of Saratoga, Calif., takes a photograph of his daughter Jessica as she receives her undergraduate degree at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., on June 11, 2017. The school's 1,069 graduating class comes from 46 states, the District of Columbia and 37 countries. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Bagpiper Joshua Marks leads the procession of administrators, faculty and honored guests through an aisle of Dartmouth graduates at the start of commencement in Hanover, N.H., on June 11, 2017. Marks has been playing since graduating from the college in 1996. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Hanover — Jake Tapper, a television news anchor and 1991 graduate of Dartmouth College, ushered the Class of 2017 into today’s wide and sometimes uncertain world with admonitions to work hard and tell the truth.

Tapper, who serves as CNN’s chief Washington correspondent, may be more qualified than most to weave together references to Dr. Seuss, who for a time called the Hanover campus home, and the nation’s 45th president — an association the newsman made almost immediately in his commencement speech on Sunday morning.

“A proud member of the Class of 1925 once wrote, ‘The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go,’ ” he told more than a thousand graduates and 10,000 other attendees.

But Theodor Seuss Geisel had “left a few things out,” said Tapper, who went on to throw a jab at Donald Trump, albeit not by name. “He didn’t tell you that there are a lot of unread and uninquisitive — but well-connected — heathen going very far and doing very well.”

“In the real world, not only is the Lorax still battling the Once-ler,” he said, referring to Seuss characters, “he also has to deal with the Once-ler’s Super PAC — and his nasty, nasty tweets.”

Tapper offered the graduates another piece of wisdom, one that might have sent them searching in their memories for the Seuss book it came from: “He who stays the longest learns the most.”

They would have searched to no avail, however. Tapper remembers seeing the phrase carved into the wall in a Dartmouth fraternity’s bathroom.

The noted reporter, who has gained acclaim of late for his persistence and accuracy in coverage of an increasingly fact-averse political sphere, said that he was adrift in the years after college.

Tapper went to film school, took menial internships and worked, briefly, as “the worst public-relations flunkie in the history of relating to the public.” He didn’t become a journalist until he was 29.

“I felt like a complete and utter failure,” he said. “All part of the adventure. Do not take these moments that you soon will experience as failings, or even as wrong turns.”

His misadventures in public relations taught him how spokespeople spin the news, he said — and that came in handy when he took a job at the Washington City Paper.

A tough-love editor at that job and a series of experiences at successive news outlets taught him another critical lesson, he said: “Have something that they want, and show it to them, over and over, every day. Make them need you. Work twice as hard as the job requires. … Make them hire you for their own good, not yours.”

Learn to handle rejection, he said, and when you do succeed, surround yourself with people who can be honest with you, who can tell you “no.”

“Many people, you will see, rise to a level of success on which it becomes difficult to find people to challenge them and their ideas,” he said. “And whether politicians or generals, news anchors or CEOs, that inevitably leads to their downfall. Look at what’s going on in Washington, D.C. right now. Tell me there aren’t people you can think of whose own careers would not be improved if they heeded the suggestion of a tough but loving staff of critics willing to share hard truths.”

In closing — before he asked God to bless the graduates, their families, Dartmouth, the United States of America, and “the memory of EBAs” — Tapper told the graduates to remember, in their lowest moments to come, that difficulty is only one step on the road to self-actualization.

“Maybe right now it looks to you like someone like me effortlessly went from your seat to this stage,” he said. “Let me assure you, there was effort. There was effort, and there was pain and embarrassment and rejection and humiliation. There were false starts and false turns and mistake after mistake after mistake. But that’s OK. That’s all part of the adventure. And yours starts now.”

Tapper was awarded an honory doctorate of humane letters earlier in the ceremony, along with seven others: Sheikha Adana Naser Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah, founder of American University of Kuwait; Frances Arnold, a trailblazing professor and research at California Institute of Technology; Abbey D’Agostino, a 2014 Dartmouth alumna noted for her sportsmanship in the 2016 Rio Olympics; Robert and Dorothy King, philanthropists who fight international poverty; James Sinegal, co-founder and director of Costco; Anna Deavere Smith, a MacArthur-winning playwright; and C. Fordham von Reyn, a professor of medicine at the Geisel School of Medicine.

Dartmouth President Phil Hanlon tied his valedictory speech to current events, too, telling the Class of 2017, “boy, does the world ever need minds like yours.”

“We live in an age of unprecedented polarization,” he said, “where logic and reason too often take a back seat to ideology and where people regularly gather only those facts that support their point of view and dismiss evidence to the contrary. We’ve even created a euphemism — ‘fake news’ — to normalize things that are flat-out wrong.”

He said later that as an academic he sometimes feels discouraged by the tenor of today’s public discourse.

“But not at this moment,” he added. “At this moment, I am inspired to look out and see not a gathering of 1,500 graduates assembled before me, but 1,500 agents of truth headed out into the world.”

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or at 603-727-3242.