SPRINGFIELD, Ohio --- United Press International White House correspondent Helen Thomas delivered the address and received an honorary doctor of letters degree at Wittenberg University's 154th commencement this afternoon.
A journalist for 55 years, Thomas is the "dean" of the White House press corps, having covered every president Since John F. Kennedy.
"I chose journalism with the reward that each day is an education, painful as that can be," she told the graduating class of 400. "Our mission as journalists is to keep the people informed. Our mission is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. We cannot have a democracy without an informed people."
Thomas broke down many barriers which previously excluded female reporters in Washington. She published her second memoir, "Front Row at the White House: My Life and Times," in April.
Some other highlights of Thomas's speech included:
On the White House Press Corps:
"We have the privilege of watching the president closely. Well, not THAT closely! But we do have a sense of purpose that public servants should be watched, and no president has ever liked the press, going back to George Washington."
On the world the graduates are entering:
"We have learned that we now live in a global village, wired to one another. We are our brother's keeper. The question is how long will ancient, mindless hatreds and rivalries dominate our landscape? Will we learn to live together? In this century we have seen our worst enemies become our friends. So why fight?"
Advice to the graduates:
"When this day is over graduates may say to themselves, 'free at last!' But of course that won't be true, for you will be the leaders of the 21st century and with that crown you will be bearing great responsibilities for the country and all mankind. Through it all the main thing is to keep a hold on your sense of values, your sense of humor and your sense of humanity."
At a press conference held prior to commencement, Thomas offered the following observations:
On the society today:
"Our whole society is geared toward glorifying violence. Is violence the only story that Hollywood and television can produce? I don't think the second amendment mean that everyone could own a gun, just the people would be protected through a government militia. The problems are larger than parents. But they need to keep an eye on their kids. It seems our kids are growing up in a society were kids are insensitive to violence. What do they need with automatic weapons? We have got to give kids a better sense of reality."
On privacy and the presidency:
"There will always be a dearth of candidates for president despite the lack of privacy. If you want a private life, don't run for office. Candidates have to accept the fact their finances, family and past will be scrutinized. But I think today that society is more sophisticated and forgiving."
On President Clinton:
"Certainly President Clinton will not end up on Mount Rushmore and he will have a blemish on history. But what happened in the last year and a half doesn't wipe out his record either. He has done a lot of good. I think he will be known as the education president as he has done more for opening the doors for colleges to those who deserve to go. He is a man of peace. Look at what he accomplished in Northern Ireland and Haiti. He has debits, but he has also led us through a strong economy and balanced the budget and people have jobs. I also think he is the most color blind president we have ever had."
On journalism today:
"The press doesn't sensationalize, the news IS sensational. Truth is stranger than fiction. I don't believe in censorship but we have to remember that we can ruin lives and reputations. Responsibility comes with the privilege. If you want to be loved, don't go into this business because you have to call them as you see them."
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