Longtime CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour implored Northeastern University graduates Friday to resist the “assault on the truth” by world leaders who have sought to label inconvenient facts “fake news.”
She made a point of mentioning the university’s motto: “Lux, Veritas, Virtus.”
“Light comes from truth, which leads to virtue,” Amanpour told graduates, families, and friends at TD Garden. “I believe that.”
She did not mention President Trump, who frequently derides news media coverage that he dislikes as fake news.
Few people are as qualified as Amanpour to dispense the traditional commencement advice about “going out into the world.” She made her name in journalism on the global stage, covering the first Gulf War and the conflict in Bosnia and grilling virtually every international figure on justice and diplomacy.
The wider world and Northeastern’s diversity enlivened Friday’s ceremony, when university President Joseph Aoun asked the 3,700 or so graduates seated on the arena floor to wave the flags of their heritage.
“Watching that sea of flags from around the world, that was a beautiful moment,” said Amanpour, who also received an honorary degree.
The graduating class, noted student speaker Pankhuri Singhal, represents nearly every country on the planet.
“By definition, we’re the ideal think tank,” said Singhal, who is headed to grad school to study genetics.
Amanpour touched on several themes, including climate change and the universal benefits of feminism. Whenever she’s asked what it’s like to be a woman in the world, “I’ve always said it’s just like being a man, only better,” she said, to cheers.
But she returned repeatedly to her main theme: the necessity of investigative journalism and critical thinking.
“You young people need to go forth knowing what you’re reading, what you’re clicking and watching,” she said.
She recalled absentmindedly reading a recent story about a young actress, until one comment caught her attention. When the actress was asked her opinion on the greatest challenge facing the world today, she replied simply, “Who to believe.”
“That was a punch in the gut to me,” Amanpour said.
Claiming she has devoted her own career to “my long struggle against normalizing deviance,” Amanpour concluded by quoting US Representative John Lewis, the veteran civil rights leader who encourages citizens to go out and make “good trouble.”
“Bad things happen when good people do nothing,” she said.
Earlier, Aoun addressed the students in a quirky speech that featured a human support robot named Frasier. After demonstrating that artificial intelligence is not quite up to the task of replacing a human being in making a speech, the president congratulated the students on becoming engaged global citizens, and he urged them to remain lifelong learners.
“The world still needs human and emotional intelligence,” he said.
After the ceremony, new graduate Katy Davis, who studied international affairs and hopes to enter the field of global development, said the choice of Amanpour as commencement speaker resonated with her classmates in the program.
“Super relevant,” she said of Amanpour’s address. “It kind of felt catered just for us.” At the same time, she said, the speaker’s message “applies to everyone.”
As Amanpour spoke, one of Davis’s friends mentioned that her family, who attended the ceremony, all had voted for the current president. But Amanpour, Davis noted, never mentioned Trump by name.
“I think that was wise,” Davis said.E-mail James Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @sullivanjames.