OREM — As esteemed journalist Wolf Blitzer addressed the graduating class at Utah Valley University’s 77th graduation ceremony Thursday night, he urged them to recognize their parents, family members and those who sacrificed to help them make it there.
“I learned so much from my parents who faced religious persecution. They did what it took to survive, to make a better life for me and for our family, like many of your own ancestors,” Blitzer said.
This year’s graduating class at UVU was the school’s largest ever, with more than 6,000 students. Thirty percent of those graduates are first generation college students, according to UVU President Matt Holland.
During the keynote address, the CNN anchor told some of his own family’s story. During World War II, his parents and their families, both Jewish, were placed in Nazi concentration, slave labor and death camps.
While Blitzer’s parents survived, their parents and many of their siblings did not.
When WWII ended, his parents “struggled to begin new lives,” and searched for any friends and relatives who had survived. In the search, the two survivors met each other on a train, fell in love and got married.
They later were able to get visas through the Displaced Persons Act of 1945 to come to Buffalo, New York, with the few other family members.
“They were given this wonderful new chance by the people of the United States to come to this country, start all over again and see what they could do.”
He said community members in Buffalo welcomed them and went out of their way to help them. They struggled to get by at first until his dad found his niche in home building and became successful.
“It was the American dream that they achieved,” Blitzer said. “They were always so appreciative of everything this country had to offer. They loved the United States so much and were the most patriotic Americans I ever met.”
He said they taught him, by example, the values of “patriotism, family, country.” He urged the UVU graduates to remember those values as they go out into the world.
“I hope my words today can inspire you a bit and challenge you a bit always to remember that we are all part of something bigger, as children, as parents, as neighbors, as citizens of this nation in the most divisive of times. That is something that can unite all of us,” he said.
He believes that although we have problems and improvements that we can make, the U.S. is “the greatest country in the world.”
In spite of current divisions, “we also have so many blessings and so many freedoms, including two that I particularly treasure: The freedom to practice our faith without interference, and the freedom of the press,” Blitzer said, adding that Thursday was also World Press Freedom Day.
He then discussed press freedom and the way journalists worldwide are often “threatened, attacked or murdered.” Those people “risk their lives so we know and so we can learn what’s going on, and I am so grateful to them for what they do,” Blitzer said.
The journalist then urged the graduates to follow their passions in their careers, as he did. As a boy, Blitzer said, he was always a “news junkie,” and after so many years in the journalism field, he’s “still a news junkie.”
“Take advantage of your passion. … Because if you do something you are passionate about, guess what? You are going to be much more successful as opposed to getting up in the morning and dreading what you have to do.”
He also advised the graduates to make the most of their opportunities. “It’s not enough to be at the right place at the right time. … You’ve got to exploit those opportunities,” he said.
Holland also spoke during his last graduation ceremony as president before he steps down from his position to preside over a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“For nine years, it’s been my privilege to work, learn, struggle and achieve side-by-side with the finest students, faculty, staff, administrators, trustees, regents that I know,” he said.
He said it was “the very best job a man could possibly have,” and received a standing ovation from those in attendance.