'Humble anchorman' speaks at Mayo Clinic commencement
In some ways, Tom Brokaw's life came full circle Saturday morning in Rochester.
In 1957, the self-described "whiz kid" visited the Med City to purchase the first suit of his life at Hanny's. He then left for New York to participate on a game show opposite South Dakota Gov. Joe Foss, a renowned fighter pilot during World War II. Brokaw returned to Rochester on Saturday, nattily dressed, as one of the most recognized figures across the globe. During a commencement ceremony at Mayo Civic Center, he became the first recipient of an honorary degree from the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine.
"If there is an oxymoron in America, it's a humble anchorman," Brokaw quipped in his familiar cadence. "But this is truly a humbling experience."
The 73-year-old journalist, who hosted NBC Nightly News for 22 years, injected levity into his 20-minute commencement speech for the 84-member graduating class, described as "the best and brightest" by Mayo Clinic President and CEO John Noseworthy. Phones and cameras flashed often as Brokaw spoke.
"He was an easy choice because he is a person of significance in America," Noseworthy said of the decision to award an honorary doctor of letters degree to Brokaw. "He has demonstrated his commitment to the Mayo Clinic over the years, so it just seemed appropriate."
In a departure from his traditional role as a straight-faced news man, Brokaw's casual storytelling often drew peals of laughter from the crowd. However, he also addressed serious issues near to his heart.
He urged the new graduates to hold compassionate dialogue with patients, while also improving transparency with regard to medical bills; he compared current receipts to "hieroglyphics." Brokaw acknowledged that those goals might prove difficult due to the overall uncertainty regarding the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, but encouraged the next generation of medical practitioners to tackle what's become a "radioactive issue" within the political world.
"You should go out and make a buck, but also remember (to) make a difference," Brokaw said as he signed off from the podium.
By joining Mayo Clinic's Board of Trustees in 2008, the South Dakota native has attempted to embrace that ideal on a personal level. Prior to Saturday's speech, Brokaw was vocal in support of Destination Medical Center, a $6 billion economic development plan for Rochester put forth by Mayo Clinic, which Brokaw called "the finest health care system in the world."
Brokaw doesn't shy from sharing his views, which have been forged over decades while developing three different documentaries about health care in America. Just Friday, he talked with Bill Gates, Microsoft co-founder and the newly crowned richest man in the world, about the benefits of Mayo Clinic's health care delivery system.
"It's really been one of the most fulfilling commitments I've ever made," Brokaw said of his status as a trustee.