Before graduates at George Washington University received their diplomas on Sunday, Savannah Guthrie delivered a commencement speech that was full of wisdom, encouragement and laughs.
Guthrie, who attended nearby Georgetown University 20 years ago for law school, said she never imagined she'd one day be back in town, giving a commencement speech. She shared her excitement and nerves — earlier this week when discussing weekend plans with Jenna Bush Hager.
On Sunday morning, Savannah posted a photo on Instagram, showing her taking another look at her speech before the big moment.
In addition to delivering the speech, Savannah was also awarded an honorary doctorate degree in public service from George Washington University President Thomas LeBlanc.
Here's what Savannah told the graduating class of 2019:
"Hi everybody, good morning! Wow. I feel very special in this new degree!
To President LeBlanc, distinguished platform guests, the board of trustees, distinguished faculty, family, friends, parents, sisters, brothers, children, grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and most importantly of all, to our graduates …
Thank you for the honor of speaking here to you today.
And I think there is really just one thing to say: Congratulations to the class of 2019!
Now, I’ve been lucky enough to attend two big university graduations in my life — and as I was thinking about that, getting ready for today, I realized, I have no idea what my graduation speakers said. And actually, I don’t even remember who they were! And that has been … a great comfort to me. Best case scenario, you get some useful life advice. Worst case scenario, you remember nothing.
And speaking of remembering nothing, I heard from recent GW grads this Sunday morning graduation might be just a little bit … early … for some of you. And for some of you, perhaps it’s a little late — for some of you, it’s still Saturday night.
Well, guess what? You have good reason to celebrate.
Here we are on a beautiful spring morning, we’re surrounded by history, between and among monuments and memories. We’re the midst of the bustle and buzz of one of the most important capitals in the world.
But today, in this moment, you are what stands out in this storied place. You are making your own history. The diploma you receive today is your own personal monument: to your work, your sacrifice, your passion, your perseverance. It is your accomplishment that will stand as solid as granite through the years and the miles, through the winds and the waters, through the lifetime to come.
To watch Savannah's speech, scroll to the approximately the 1:36:52 mark of this video:
This moment in your life packed with possibility; it is electric with your potential. And that might be completely exciting and exhilarating to you; or it might be totally terrifying. I have found most of the best things in my life have been exciting, and exhilarating and terrifying, all at the same time.
It was exactly 20 years ago this spring that I first made the decision to come right here to Washington DC for school. I could have hardly imagined myself standing here before you like this. And I keep thinking — what would I have wanted to know? What is one piece of advice I could have really used — something that would have stood the test of time, and prepared me for the road ahead.
And then it hit me. It’s simple. Power it off, then power it back on. It’s not a metaphor. When your device freezes, you should try that. It often works.
Seriously, though. When people sometimes ask me, how did I ‘get here’ — I have to smile. It was not a straight line. 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.
I started out dreaming of making it big in television news, and I spent years trying … and I was moving up slowly but surely when I dumped it all to go to law school. And then, a few years later, I see you law graduates, I was beginning my life as a lawyer, my course was all plotted, when, yep, I dumped it all to go back to television news.
My path is not how anyone would tell anybody to get anywhere. It’s like someone giving you directions from right here to New York City by telling you to start heading toward Miami. But what I’ve realized is — no matter how many detours you take, you’re going to get where you are meant to go.
I am here today to cheer you across this finish line and to cheer you on, because this is also your starting line.
Whatever is in your mind and your heart this morning, you can do it.
Every person sitting here has some kind of dream — an idea of what their lives might look like. It could be a career goal, it could be an athletic achievement, it could be the place you want to live or the family that you hope to create. Here’s the thing: Whisper it to yourself if you must, but say it out loud, put it out there - don't curb your ambitions, don't tell yourself, ‘I could never do that. I’m not good enough. It’s too much.’
My advice is really simple: Think big for yourself and then, just head in that general direction. Whether you arrive at the ideal destination is not even the point. The point is to be ambitious for your life … and then just, try.
Now: of course, I can’t know where your fulfillment and happiness will be found. I can’t tell you where your dream is. Only you know that.
But I can tell you where it isn’t. It isn’t in your comfort zone. It isn’t in your wheelhouse. It’s not where you feel safe. It’s not where conditions are perfect. It is not where you are usually right and rarely challenged.
Your blossoming and your growth — which is to say, your success — is always, always, inevitably, on the other side of a risk. 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.
This is true whether it’s career, or faith, a relationship, or love — when you find it, it will only be after you’ve taken that big, giant, daring leap. It will be you, standing at the tip of a ravine, or maybe it’s a tall cliff rising over a deep canyon … you’re looking down and looking across, your heartbeat is rising, your sweat glands are pulsing. You will be here many times. You will be called to do this again and again and again.
Do I try something new? Do I follow my heart, my instincts, my conscience and trust it will be ok? Or do I stick to the plan, stick to what I ‘should’ do… stick to what’s safe?
I’ll tell you what you’re gonna do. You’re gonna steady yourself, you’re gonna trust your gut, you’re gonna believe in your strength, you’re gonna lift up your prayers — and then, you’re gonna jump.
One of the biggest, craziest jumps I ever made happened about one mile from where we are right now. It wasn’t a cliff; it was the federal courthouse here in Washington, DC. As I mentioned, I had left TV news to try and become a lawyer. I had just graduated from law school, passed the bar and I was working at a big law firm. I had a lined up a clerkship with a prestigious federal judge. It was the kind of opportunity that young lawyers clamor for, the kind of thing that can make your career, set you on a path for stellar legal success. I was just months away from reporting for duty, my course was set… except, I had an epiphany. It wasn’t my dream. What I really wanted was to go back to my roots in journalism. I still had that nagging hope that one day I could really make it in television news.
And so, what I did next was insane and unthinkable. I quit, before I even started. I don’t know how much you have heard about this, but no one ever says no to a federal judge. Like, it does. not. happen. So I went in to meet with him in his chambers, to break up.
And I told him, ‘Judge, I can’t come work for you this fall… because I want to pursue my dream to be in national television news.’ ‘That’s great,’ he said. ‘Do you have a job?’ No, I said. ‘Do you have any job prospects?’ he asked. ‘No,’ I said. He was gracious but perplexed. ‘I don’t understand,’ he said, ‘why don’t you come work me for this one year, and then go pursue your dream — this experience will only help you.’ And that’s when I looked at him and told him: ‘I know you’re right. What you say makes perfect sense. But I also know myself, and if I don’t do this, right this minute, I will never have the guts again.’
It was my moment of truth, my moment to jump.
I walked out of that courthouse and realized I had … nothing. Less than nothing. I had blown up my whole perfectly laid out legal future. For, again — nothing. But I went forward, and long story short, I found a job with a legal network a few months later — they happened to be looking for a lawyer with TV experience … and my vision for myself started to come true.
You’re going to have to take a leap a time or two times in your life, maybe more.
And sometimes, you will stick the landing. There you are — both feet planted. Legs strong. Spirits high. Looking back with a huge smile on your face … the crowd has gathered and they stare at you in awe. They wave and applaud, they marvel at your brilliance and grace, you just got 10-thousand likes on Instagram.
And lots of times … more times than I care to tell you … you will not stick the landing. You will land wobbly and drop to your knees. Or you will fall, you will miss the mark by a mile, and descend. Right down to the bottom. You will be banged up, scratched, embarrassed … maybe even a little bloody. And what you do next will determine everything. You’ll climb.
Something like this happened to me right after I graduated from college. I was just like you — I had my degree, and I had goals… at that point, I was trying to land a job on camera in television news. It was hard. There weren’t many jobs, I didn’t have much experience, and truth be told, I wasn’t very good. But after months of searching, sending out resume tapes all across the country, I landed a job. It was in a little town: Butte, Montana. One of the smallest TV markets in the country. They had a newsroom staff of four. But I was lucky to get that job, thrilled to have it. I just knew I was on my way.
I set out from my hometown in Arizona. I spent every dime I had just to get there … and then, 10 days later, they closed the station. I was fired. It was devastating, and humiliating. My friends had thrown me a big going away party … and two weeks later, practically before they had even cleaned up, there I was, right back in my hometown. Like a big loser. And I was ready to just — give up. I truly considered just forgetting it, doing something safer and more conventional and easier.
I felt like I had hit bottom. And actually, I did hit the bottom of many pints of Ben and Jerrys. Right ladies?
But after some weeks of feeling sorry for myself, I started it up again. Started my job search all over from square one. Sending out resume reels. Trying to get that first job … again. Then sure enough I did — and actually, it was a better job this time. It was a bigger market, and a better newsroom. And here’s the thing — I wouldn’t have gotten THAT job if I hadn’t learned some of the skills I had picked up in my 10-day career in Butte, Montana. And this is when I learned one of the biggest lessons of my life. There IS no wasted opportunity. Not if you are determined to make something of it.
Maybe you wish I was telling you something different than this … that shortcuts work, that there is an easy path, that you can Waze your way through life and sail through the quickest route.
But here’s the thing I want to tell you: the challenges you come across, the cliffs you climb, the weight you’re carrying — this is what is making something of you that is worthy and strong. This is what’s preparing you for your future greatness and your most stunning leaps. This is how you’re finding out what you’re made of. You cannot read about it in a book, your parents can’t tell you, you have to be shown, you have to find out for yourself.
And what you will find is — 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.
You will come to a time when you say, I’m so glad that thing I feared or dreaded happened, because I would not be me without it. I wouldn’t not have learned compassion, or empathy, I would not have known the determination or grit deep within.
And I promise you this, you will come to a time when you say, ‘thank goodness, I did not get that thing I once wanted more than anything. Thank goodness I didn’t get that job I thought I had to have. Thank goodness I did not marry that person I thought I loved more than anyone in the world.’
I don’t know why, life is just like that. So if you can, over time, I read this recently, learn to make friends with your troubles. Make them your teachers, instead of your tormentors. Or if you can do this, imagine they’re your saviors … rescuing you, pointing you in a different direction, to what’s truly meant for you.
Graduates, today is your day … and maybe you’re full of confidence and energy — you are itching to get out of that seat and out of this town. You have plans and you know where you’re going. Your resume rocks; your trajectory is set; your course is plotted. You are, as the saying goes, ‘tanned, rested and ready.’
Well today you’re definitely tanned because of this weather.
Or maybe you’re lost and adrift, afraid and frozen to the spot, and don’t know what to dream or where to go next or even how to start thinking about how to get there. It’s fine, whoever you are, The One With It All Figured Out, or The One Who Is Lost — it’s fine, I can promise you, you are on your way anyway. You are going where you need to go. Ready or not, here you come. Because the journey itself is your destination. The path is your purpose.
A few years back I was obsessed with reading about people who climbed Mt. Everest. To be clear, I was not obsessed with actually climbing Mt. Everest myself; I liked to read about people who did. Anyway, in the course of this I learned about the concept of ‘summit fever’ — the phenomenon in which some people become so intent on reaching the top of the highest peak in the world, that they literally wear themselves out. Some tired themselves to the point that they did not have the energy to get back down… or they made strategic errors in pursuit of the top, ran out of oxygen… and some paid with their lives. Could you imagine? They reached their goal only to die on the way down.
I think there is something to learn here. As much as you might desire a certain kind of success or accomplishment, don’t get summit fever. Don’t be so intent on reaching the top that you kill yourself to get there, or hurt others doing so. And even more, don’t be so focused on some summit that you miss the beautiful views on the way up. This is a metaphor for life. Stop and rest. Look around. Talk to the people traveling with you. Who cares if you make it to the top? The ‘getting there’ is the point anyway. Your climb, your path — that is your real life. The effort, the things you learn, the skills you acquire on the way, and most importantly, the people you keep company with — that is the whole point.
It’s been 20 years since I first came here. I keep thinking about what would happen if I could run into my old self walking around these streets of Washington? What if I could stop her and tell her something, something from the future, something to help her get her through? Because what I would tell her is exactly what I want to tell you …
Such as, don’t worry so much. Things have a way of working out and life can handle a few of your missteps — even your biggies. The times you ruined your life — you didn’t. You may leave your path but your path doesn't leave you.
Don’t waste your time feeling ‘old’ when you're young.
Love and appreciate your own unique beauty. You know that picture you want to delete? It’s the picture you might one day look at and say, ‘Wow I looked pretty good back then.’
Don’t stress when other people seem to be going higher and faster, getting married sooner, having kids when you can’t, when others are getting that promotion, buying that house, going on that trip, having those friends — don’t you worry. The life you’re making is enough. It is enough. You are enough.
And don't miss the monuments.
I remember the first time I came to this town, I remember the drive from the airport, across the river. I felt my chest rise with the thrill of the sights. The Lincoln Memorial, the Capitol, the White House, the Washington Monument. I felt an excitement a coursing through my veins just to be here in this magical place. But time went by ... and day after day, I drove past these places. After a while, I stopped looking. I stopped noticing. And soon these incredible works of history and art and architecture were just another thing on the side of the road. They could have been a gas station or a convenience store.
Life can be like that. Even the thing that once captivated you can soon be taken for granted, its magic lost to you. So as you go through life, don’t miss the monuments.
Don’t become so used to the things that are beautiful in your life that you don’t see them anymore.
So let me tell you, here’s what’s beautiful in your life this morning: Your beating heart, your lively mind, the people that are looking with delight in their eyes… when they look at you.
Today you are at the top of a summit. Forget the selfie — look out and around and take a picture with your mind. Screenshot this moment; the image you capture with your memory carries not just what you saw, but how you felt. I promise if you do, you will never forget. You can forget this speech. But don’t forget how good it felt on this day to be you, standing on top of this mountain and ready to climb a few more.
I am cheering for you, Class of 2019. Congratulations!"