Gwen Ifill L.H.D.’01, one of the most prominent political journalists in the country, died today at the age of 61. Shortly after taking the helm of “Washington Week in Review” and becoming the first African-American woman to host a major political TV talk show, Ifill visited HWS to offer a President’s Forum address in 2000. She returned to campus in 2001 to present the Commencement Address. Her words from 15 years ago resonate today.
“I’ve always considered the simple act of casting a vote to be a powerful tool in being heard. And that may be perhaps because I’m a member of a group that it took a couple of constitutional amendments —for a black and a woman —in order to get the right to vote. So I take it very seriously,” Ifill said to the members of HWS Classes of 2001. “Voting is one thing I believe I must do and we all must do and certainly this last election showed that every single vote counts. We also have to hold our elected officials responsible to us even when they are playing to our cynicism. Counting on it, it’s a fact. As you go about your lives, you cannot let them count on you to be cynical.”
She offered the following parting advice to graduates: “You must use your skills, set your expectations high, be prepared to make some tough choices, and to shine some light into a few dark corners. You can secretly hold onto your belief in Santa Claus and magic. I know I do. And you can still have enough energy left at the end of the day to break through a few more ceilings. And when all is said and done, you can exceed your dreams.”
The full transcript of Ifill’s 2001 HWS Commencement Address can be found here.
Major news outlets including NPR offered tributes to the visionary leader. NPR offers Gwen Ifill, Host Of ‘Washington Week’ And ‘PBS NewsHour,’ Dies