Undergraduates Cross the Stage During 2022 Commencement Ceremony
Chancellor Jeremy Haefner and Commencement speaker David Von Drehle motivate graduates to live in the moment
In times of strife, it’s important to focus on the present.
That was the message shared by Chancellor Jeremy Haefner and Commencement speaker David Von Drehle as more than 1,000 undergraduate students were conferred degrees Saturday at the Ritchie Center.
Haefner touched on the challenges faced by the Class of 2022, whose time at the University of Denver was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Your college experience was interrupted and in some ways shaped by that which shall not be named,” Haefner said to laughs from the crowd. “But you persevered, and we’re incredibly proud of you.”
Haefner welcomed 2022 graduates, as well as the Class of 1972, which was honored before the ceremony. He also conferred an honorary doctorate of humanities degree to Von Drehle (BA ’83), who was a Boettcher Scholar at DU and a Marshall Scholar at Oxford University, where he earned his master’s degree.
After his education, Von Drehle worked as a journalist with stops at The Washington Post, The Miami Herald and TIME, where he covered the 2012 presidential candidates’ debate between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney at Magness Arena.
He authored several books. “Among the Lowest of the Dead” was called “perhaps the finest book ever written about capital punishment,” by The Chicago Tribune. “Triangle: The Fire That Changed America” was The New York Times’ Notable Book of the Year for 2003 and won a Christopher Award and the Sidney Hillman Foundation book prize.
His most recent work, “Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America’s Most Perilous Year,” is a personal favorite of the Chancellor.
Von Drehle has since returned to The Washington Post, where he files a twice-weekly column from Kansas City.
His mother, Dorothy Von Drehle, was a longtime employee at DU who volunteered on campus after her retirement in 1995. She died in 2019, but Von Drehle opened his address with advice from his mom.
“She would have loved the chance to see me here almost — almost — as much as she would’ve enjoyed her Pioneers winning another national ice hockey championship,” he says. “As a mother and grandmother, mom sat through a lot of commencement ceremonies, so I know exactly what she would tell me if she were here: keep it short. I’ll try, mom.”
Von Drehle centered his speech around family and time, tying in his experience as a journalist and his love for the University of Denver.
“As a journalist, I deal mostly with past and future,” he says. “Journalism reports yesterday’s results from Wall Street or attempts to warn of tomorrow’s recession. Journalism recaps last night’s scores or handicaps next week’s tournament. Journalism visits the aftermath of a tornado or tries to predict the climate in 2050.
“What we often miss, whether we’re practicing journalism or celebrating commencement, is the most important thing — the present. The here and the now. It’s the most important resource we have because it’s the only moment available to us to seize.
“Viktor Frankl was enslaved by the Nazis and saw his past and future torn horribly away from him. He came to understand from that the urgency of the present. He wrote that, ‘Everything can be taken but the last of the human freedoms: to choose one’s attitude in any set of given circumstances. To choose one’s own way.’
“You’ve encouraged to study the past and prepare for the future, and that’s great advice, except when it turns into stewing over the past and worrying about the future. There’s a troubling statistic I need to share. Depression and anxiety among young people have doubled in United States, just during your time at DU. But what is depression but a dark shadow from the past? And what is anxiety but a fearful stance towards the future. The cure is to live here and now.”
Haefner closed the ceremony with the chancellor’s charge.
“Wherever you go from here, DU alumni, know that all of us are extremely proud of you,” he said. “You have cultivated the knowledge you need to be prepared for all kinds of endeavors and make a real difference in the world.”