April 2nd, 2012 | University

Barbara Walters to speak at Class Day

Barbara Walters on The Today Show in 1973, alongside Gene Shalit and Frank McGee.
Barbara Walters on The Today Show in 1973, alongside Gene Shalit and Frank McGee. Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

Emmy-winning journalist and television host Barbara Walters will be the speaker at this year’s Class Day, according to an email sent to the senior class early Monday morning.

“We are absolutely thrilled and thankful to Ms. Walters for agreeing to join us for Class Day,” Senior Class Council heads Kevin Adkisson ’12 and Ben Schenkel ’12 wrote in the email. “She has arguably interviewed more statesmen and stars than any journalist in history. The ABC News correspondent is so well-known that she is listed in the American Heritage Dictionary.”

The email goes on to list Walters’ many accomplishments — from her time as the first female anchor of The Today Show in the 1970s, to her numerous interviews with illustrious statesmen, to her time as co-host and creator of “The View.” Walters is currently a contributor to ABC World News, the station’s flagship news program.

Previous class day speakers have included actor Tom Hanks, former President Bill Clinton LAW ’73, author Christopher Buckley ’75, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and journalists Fareed Zakaria ’86 and Anderson Cooper ’89. Walters is the first female class day speaker since Eleanor Holmes Norton GRD ’63 LAW ’64 addressed the class of 2005.

Walters delivered one other commencement speech at her alma mater, Sarah Lawrence College, in 2001, and told stories from her many high profile interviews.

Read the email in full below:

Dear Seniors,

On behalf of the Class of 2012, we are pleased and honored to announce that the 2012 Class Day Speaker will be Barbara Walters.

Since her network debut on “The Today Show,” where she progressed from writer to the program’s first female co-host, Ms. Walters has received acclaim for her contributions in television journalism. She has arguably interviewed more statesmen and stars than any journalist in history. The ABC News correspondent is so well-known that she is listed in the American Heritage Dictionary.

Ms. Walters joined ABC News in 1976 as the first woman to co-anchor the network news. She also is the creator, executive producer, and co-host of “The View,” recipient of the 2003 Daytime Emmy® Award for “Outstanding Talk Show.” In 2004, after 25 years as co-host and chief correspondent of ABC News’ “20/20,” Ms. Walters began a new phase in her ABC career, substantially increasing her number of primetime specials, in addition to her top-rated “Barbara Walters Specials.” Another signature broadcast of hers, launched in 1993, the “10 Most Fascinating People” offers a review of the most prominent newsmakers of the year. In 2010, Ms. Walters hosted her 29th and final Oscar special.

Over her expansive career, Ms. Walters has interviewed a variety of legends in politics and entertainment. They include every American President and First Lady since Richard Nixon. She made journalism history by arranging the first joint interview with Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat and Israel’s Prime Minister Menachem Begin in 1977. Another first was a conversation with Cuban President Fidel Castro — an interview that has been printed in half a dozen languages and shown all over the world. Other world leaders whom Ms. Walters has interviewed are Russia’s Boris Yeltsin, China’s Premier Jiang Zemin, Great Britain’s former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, and, most recently, Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. Ms. Walters also tackled tough issues surrounding the war with Iraq, including reports on women and children who lived through the first Persian Gulf War. In 1999, Ms. Walters conducted the first interview with Monica Lewinsky, which became the highest-rated news program ever broadcast by a single network. She has interviewed pop cultural icons such as Sir Laurence Olivier, Bing Crosby, John Wayne, Bette Davis, Audrey Hepburn, and Elizabeth Taylor.

Ms. Walters has received national recognition for her work, and has been the recipient of numerous prestigious honors and awards. In 2009, she received another Daytime Emmy Award for “The View,” as an Outstanding Talk Show Host, and the hosts were chosen at one point as one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World” by Time Magazine. She is a New York Times best-selling author for her 2008 memoir Audition. In addition, she was inducted in 1990 into the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences’ Hall of Fame “for being acknowledged worldwide as one of television’s most respected interviewers and journalists,” followed in 2004 by induction into the Museum of Television and Radio. She has received lifetime achievement awards from the International Women’s Media Foundation, the Women’s Project and Productions, and twice from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. She received in 1988 the Overseas Press Club’s highest award, the President’s Award. Ms. Walters is the recipient of honorary doctoral degrees from Sarah Lawrence, her alma mater, as well as Ohio State University, Temple University, Marymount College, Wheaton College, Hofstra University and Ben-Gurion University in Jerusalem.

We are absolutely thrilled that Ms. Walters has agreed to join us for Class Day this May.


Kevin Adkisson, Secretary

Ben Schenkel, Treasurer

  • Branfoil

    really SCC? really? Barbara Walters? thanks a freaking lot for that. I can’t believe we couldn’t do better than this. So disappointed to be a member of the class of 2012 right now.

  • brreader14

    i mean, this is definitely a belated april fool’s prank…right? right??

  • JE14

    quite a disparity here… bill clinton, tom hanks, tony blair, anderson cooper, fareed zakaria, and… friggen Barbara Walters. Ouch. I’m sorry for the class of 2012, and at the same time very happy not to be part of it.

    • es1212

      Barbara Walters is a far more established and distinguished journalist than Fareed Zakaria and Anderson Cooper combined. She paved the way for them, and for Katie Couric, Christiane Amanpour, and countless other female broadcast journalists. I’m so disappointed by the sexist tone of some of the backlash to this announcement.

      • yayasisterhood

        @es1212, I notice you’re the same college and year as the SCC treasurer.

        • es1212

          Astute observation. We’re also both Jewish, and human. Your point?

          • yayasisterhood

            My point is that you, the only person defending this idiotic decision, and he, the person who made aforementioned decision, are almost certainly the same person. That’s my point.

          • Standards

            Wow, Stiles 2012. That makes him or her possibly, what, one twelfth of the Senior class? What a reasonable assertion to make.

            After all, no one possibly in that group of a hundred-odd kids might appreciate one of the foremost female journalists speaking to the class.

            “Almost certainly?” You’re a tool.

      • public__editor

        Fareed Zakaria, Anderson Cooper, Katie Couric, and Christine Amanpour (almost) exclusively cover serious stories that matter. Barbara Walters is just as likely to be interviewing the Kardashians or the Jersey Shore cast as someone who matters, and is much more likely to be speaking about nonsense on the View.

        FLOTUS, (at least) two Supreme Court Justices, and the Secretary of State are all speaking this year at other colleges, and are all women.

        If this is the ’12 SCC Treasurer, or anyone else involved in the decision, you should be embarrassed and disappointed in yourself, as should (and are, judging by the comments) the Class of 2012 in you.

        • es1313

          Shah of Iran Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and his wife the Empress Farah Pahlavi; Russia’s Boris Yeltsin; China’s Jiang Zemin; the UK’s Margaret Thatcher; Cuba’s Fidel Castro, as well as India’s Indira Gandhi, Václav Havel, Muammar al-Gaddafi, King Hussein of Jordan, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Bashar al-Assad president of Syria among many others.

          Just a small sampling of the people Barbara has interviewed over the years. If you think that she is just a pop culture journalist from the View, you have absolutely no understanding of her career and the roads she paved for women in journalism.

          • yayasisterhood

            Adding one digit to the numbers of your username doesn’t make your identity any less transparent (or your response seem any less desperate), fyi.

          • es1313

            I’m definitely a different person than the previous posters, so apparently it did make me more transparent. And I don’t see how pointing out Barbara’s record of “serious” journalism is desperate. Snarky attacks are very immature.

          • Standards

            You are actually beyond the realm of reasonable inference, and into conspiracy territory.

            Is it really so hard to comprehend that people might have different opinions than you?

            No, you’re totally right. It’s all just one person.

          • public__editor

            “If you were a tree, what kind would you be?”

            That is all.

          • es1313

            Which is in response to Hepburn mentioning she’d like to be a tree. Watch the whole video clip.

          • public__editor

            I don’t care. Talking about trees with celebrities does not an interesting Class Day speaker make, no matter how the trees come up.

          • es1313

            I guess it’s just a matter of opinion. I believe that having the opportunity to interview people of incredible influence and significance, from Fidel Castro to Michael Jackson, will make for an interesting speech.

          • yayasisterhood

            Well, to paraphrase Herman Cain, the problem with your analysis is that it is incorrect.

        • es1212

          I’m not Ben Schenkel. Scout’s honor.

          I have to point out that Anderson Cooper has devoted airtime to professional child bride Courtney Stodden and was reduced to giggles when trying to deliver pee puns about Gerard Depardieu’s drunken meltdown on an airplane. Journalists — even good ones, and often the best ones — cover pop culture. They aren’t insulated from mainstream tastes and trends like we sometimes are here at Yale. Hate to say it, but your comment reeks of elitism.

          And yes, our first lady, our Supreme Court justices, and our Secretary of State are undoubtedly important and influential women. But this shouldn’t be about getting the biggest name possible. Bill Clinton’s speech was near-incoherent at times, but I didn’t hear anyone griping about that booking before he arrived on campus.

          Anyways, it’s too late for complaints. If you hate her address once she’s actually delivered it, feel free to start whining again.

          • public__editor

            If this isn’t about getting the biggest name possible, then we should have gotten someone unknown but interesting. The SCC can only have picked Barbara Walters *because* she was a big name, because she certainly isn’t good at giving graduation speeches: http://www.slc.edu/news-events/archived/2000-2001/2001-05-25.html.

      • ohno

        I don’t see anything sexist about it. She may be accomplished and lauded, but that’s not a criterion for a Class Day speaker, that’s a setup for a well-attended Master’s Tea. The Class Day speaker’s job is to be a.) famous, b.) relevant, and c.) entertaining, in some combination. People should be excited over their Class Day speaker. The most I’ve heard Walters speak in the past 5 years was on The View, which is unwatchable at best. I would have been thrilled over the selection of Katie Couric, if they were trying to stick with “popular female journalist.”

  • jpressyale

    I think Barbara Walters is great! Way better than Tom Hanks anyways…

  • Branfoil

    I’m actually patiently waiting for an email revealing this is an april fool’s joke. I can’t believe the SCC dropped the ball so badly on this one. At least I’ll have videos of Tom Hanks and bill Clinton giving class day speeches. I’ll just pretend I graduated those years instead. Maybe we can convince Barbara Walters that we don’t want her to speak and then she’ll decline.

    • MikeConrad

      Baba Wawa is an idjit floozie but it’s not like Tom Hanks is Pulitzer material…

  • whydoIhaveaname

    not to sound like a spoiled baby, but yeah, can’t help feeling disappointed.

  • public__editor

    If you guys were going for a woman because we haven’t had one in like 6 years (more power to you if you were, it’s ’bout time), here are a few ideas: Christine Lagarde (first female head of the IMF), Jill Abramson (first female executive editor of the NYT, she taught a class at Yale until last year, I feel like some people somewhere have some connections to her…just maybe), Justice Sotomayor (NYU got her), Secretary Clinton, Michelle Obama (other schools all got them).

    • es1313

      Very good suggestions. Any of those women would have made fabulous speakers. But why is Barbara Walters not worthy of their ranks?

      • yayasisterhood

        Let’s see. (first female) IMF chair, (first female) EIC of most important newspaper in the world, SCOTUS, SecState/Senator/FLOTUS (all three!), POTUS, FLOTUS, host of “The View” (oh yeah, and formerly host of “The Today Show”). One of these things is not like the other.

    • jpressyale

      Since when is President Obama a woman?

  • lolnonymous

    can we get the guy on the left of the picture instead

    • jpressyale


      • lolnonymous

        i hope you’re ok

  • Branford11

    class of 2012 ruined yale. enjoy hell

  • cultofthewalrus

    topping off a year of mediocre efforts by the scc. first we blew all our money on a buffet-disguised-as-a-masquerade, then we had virtually no events of note, and now we waited over five months after harvard/princeton announced their speakers for… this. don’t get me wrong, barbara walters did a lot, but i don’t think i’ll feel a connection to her. graduation speakers are supposed to send us off into the ever-changing world, and i feel like someone who is in the prime of his/her professional career right now is better equipped to do that. and, given the number of negative reactions within two hours of the announcement, scc had to have some inkling that their choice was not going to be a crowd-pleaser. most likely reason for not choosing a crowd-pleaser? couldn’t get one.

  • ygrd

    boohoo… oh, so sad, my life is ruined /sarcasm

  • elijah

    This is the most obnoxious #ivyleagueproblem I have ever seen.

    • etoohey1

      says the guy who is replying to a ydn cross campus article at 2am — i am pretty sure you can’t be both engaged and self-righteously apathetic. Granted, elijah, i’m not an expert; i’ve been a little busy complaining about no trays in the dining hall, bass library hours, and fluctuations in the endowment. Your post is the epitome of the ultimate #iveleagueproblem: how do I appear impressively intelligent while still getting ‘points’ for bashing my elite education and positioning myself as an outsider. Good luck with that…

  • Veritas

    Better than Tom Hanks.

  • The Anti-Yale

    Famous for being famous.

    Just what the doctor ordered for the tinsel-town, touchscreen, microwave -in-your-pocket generation.


  • River_Tam

    I love The View!!! (Let’s be clear, Walters hasn’t been recognized for anything other than The View since 1975)

    No, but in all seriousness who the hell cares which random-ass celebrity speaks at commencement? Way bigger celebrities show up at Yale every year for random talks — go to those and tune out when some guy waxes on about the definition of the word “commencement”.

  • JE09

    Yale needs to stop worrying about the name and start getting ALUMNI/AE to speak at graduation. A lot of the commenters above have noted the star power of some of the past speakers, but actually the best class day address of the last few years was delivered Christopher Buckley, Yale ’75. His speech was personal and was able to address the unique aspects of Yale in ways that no non-Yalie could. I remember there was a lot of frustration among members of my class when Buckley was chosen and Obama agreed to be the commencement at Wesleyan that year. But if you watch those speeches, it is clear that Buckley’s was more heartfelt and fitting to time and place.

    I encourage all seniors who are upset right now to go back and watch the last few Class Day speeches. This should prove to you that star power and speech quality are not perfectly correlated. But, I also would encourage seniors to go lobby for an alum speak. No amount of celebrity can overcome shared experience.

    • Goldie08

      Was just about to comment that the best class day I witnessed was Buckley’s. Interesting guy, and his speech was that much better because he was an alum.

  • RexMottram08

    Walters is a total mediocrity. A terrible choice, I feel cheated.

    • Goldie08

      Really? Cheated? Where is it written that one of Yale’s many missions is to provide you with a pleasing choice for class day speaker 4 years after you graduated?

      If you truly feel that Yale has somehow “cheated” you, well, the only thing I can suggest is a chill pill my friend.

      • Branfoil

        Goldie, is there really a need to attack someone for feeling cheated? when the classes before you do have amazing class day speakers, yes, you do feel a bit cheated. we will all end up taking a chill pill, because there isn’t much we can do about it at this point, but to feel cheated is a feeling that is perfectly fine to have.

      • River_Tam

        Maybe ’08 refers to his high school graduation year, which would mean he’s graduating from Yale this year.

      • RexMottram08

        If the YDN comment system permitted images, I would now post a copy of my most recent tuition cheque as the only justification owed.

  • theblueandwhite14

    Honestly, why even venture out of Yale? There are plenty of Professors here who I would love to hear speak- e.g. Paul Bloom…

  • Tan

    These comments are the funniest thing ever. Way to play to the stereotype of Yale kids as spoilt, snobby, entitled brats. If I were Barbara Walters I’d probably pull out after reading this.

    On the bright side Bill Clinton’s commencement speech here was pretty lame, and Tom Hanks’ commencement speech last year was even worse. I’m waiting to be pleasantly surprised.

    • MikeConrad

      Well if she pulls out, we’ll have accomplished at least one worthwhile thing here! But she won’t, it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to her.

  • HC2011

    If money was the issue, then I can’t imagine that we couldn’t get someone more inspirational from within the Yale faculty. We’d be far from settling with someone like Akhil Amar or Nemerov (who’s leaving this semester) or David Blight or Paul Bloom. I recognize those aren’t women, but I also think that if SCC was aiming to make a statement by bringing in a woman after a while of not having one, they should have done it with a bang and not a fizzle. I haven’t seen this much negative energy directed toward a Class Day speaker announcement in my time at Yale (and Tony Blair was quite controversial). That has to say something. It’s not worth asking a woman to speak who then makes everyone think that a woman Class Day speaker means settling for something less epic.

  • basho

    why were only two members of the entire senior class empowered to pick the speaker?


  • 2014

    I’m not a senior, and dare I say that I envy the Class of 2012 for getting to hear Barbara Walters speak.

  • yale_senior

    Honestly, who cares who the class day speaker is. Even if it were Barack Obama, it’s still just like any other large talk you can see anywhere (if you want to see some famous politician talk go take a trip to Ohio in October). If the class day speech was an individual meeting with the speaker for every student in the class I would care, but like what’s the difference between a class day speech and like going to a talk at the 92nd street Y? The only good commencement speeches I have ever seen are Conan’s because they are funny, i.e. not boring, but even there it’s not like it’s some incredible opportunity that I couldn’t get by turning my TV on.

  • basho

    Kony for Class day 2012!

  • The Anti-Yale

    ‘Walters is a total mediocrity.”

    HARDLY. AVERAGE SHE IS NOT. The daughter of a Las Vegas impresario, she knows how to generate publicity. Plus she’s an astute business mind—-buying properties including her own show and making millions from them.

  • ldffly

    If you don’t want Walters, then maybe you could talk somebody at the medical school into bringing Oriana Fallaci back. Female and a journalist. She used to like coming to Yale.

  • RM80s

    Ave Atque Waway!

    • RexMottram08


  • ms2676

    Maybe she will do an impression of Gilda Radner (RIP) doing her?

  • 12parent

    Wow. After reading all of these negative comments, I can’t believe the level of ignorance being portrayed. Barbara Walters has accomplished more in her 82 years than most of you could ever hope to accomplish.
    Her accomplishments as a TV journalist are so significant that you would be hard pressed to find someone to come anywhere close. She was the first woman to co-anchor the network evening news. She broke the same ground on the network morning show of record – The Today Show. She’s interviewed nearly every major head of state in the last 40 years. She has created and executive produced The View in her latter years in an effort to seize on the merging trend of entertainment and journalism.
    As Yale students, you’re supposed to be the future leaders of your generation. Act like it.

    • RexMottram08

      Anything she ever produced was forgotten as quickly as it aired. A total mediocrity and a prime example of how far journalism has fallen.

      • 12parent

        Ever heard of Monica Lewinsky? The intern that was at the center of one of the biggest presidential scandals in history? Walters was the only journalist to interview her. The interview was seen by 75 million people, the most viewed news program in the history of television. Yeah, “forgotten as quickly as it aired”. As I said before, the level of ignorance is astounding.

        • River_Tam

          LOL. It was a softball interview (and should have been, honestly, since there wasn’t anything that Lewinsky could really say about the situation that wasn’t already known).

          You should really get Matt Drudge to give the commencement address – he was the one who actually BROKE the Lewinsky story after Newsweek sat on it.

          Also: The ONLY interviewer? Jon Snow interviewed her as well (the journalist, not the bastard). Michael Duffy did one for TIME as well.

          PS: Monica actually demanded to get paid to get interviewed, which is why Oprah walked away from the exclusive interview with her and ABC landed it instead.

  • haletinytea
  • edm2012

    No offense to Barbara Walters, she’s great, but I can’t help feeling like this is, “come to a Master’s Tea with Barbara Walters” not “Class Day Speaker Barbara Walters.” As someone already said–Senior Class Council SUCKS this year

  • Foggybottom

    I went to Vassar and Dartmouth. If Yale doesn’t want Barbara Walters, I am sure the students at my alma maters would more than welcome her.
    Those of you trashing her, should read her autobiography or listen to her audiobook, both titled “Audition”. She took on the financial responsibility of providing financial and moral support for her mentally disabled sister her entire life and adopted a daughter as well. Two women for whom she made a tremendous positive difference in their lives. By her positive example and persistence in her profession as the first woman in many situations, she paved the way for many of you at Yale whether you realize it or not. More bluntly, she and others like her put up with a lot of sexist garbage so you could have the opportunities you have today. For those of you who don’t believe you can learn anything from her, I know there are two things that those of you trashing her can learn from her–humility and class.

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