Journalist and Simpson alumnus Richard Cohen will be the featured speaker at the commencement ceremony on May 21.
“I was honored to be asked to return to Simpson and speak,” Cohen said. “Simpson was such a significant piece of my life. I learned so much about politics and headed for journalism from there. I feel the college is part of me.”
Cohen, class of 1970, is a former senior producer for CBS News and CNN and author of “Blindsided: Lifting a Life Above Illness: A Reluctant Memoir”, in which he chronicles his experiences with multiple sclerosis and overcoming his two encounters with colon cancer.
Simpson’s president chooses the commencement speaker each year, and according to current President R. Kevin LaGree, students are consulted about who they’d want to hear.
“I look for somebody who would have something to say to our graduates and their families, who understand the mission and values of a liberal arts college like Simpson, and there is a significant chance he/she would say something that people would take away with them,” LaGree said.
LaGree saw Cohen and his wife Meredith Vieira being interviewed by Barbara Walters on an episode of “20/20” and was impressed with Cohen’s ability to communicate well.
“I was very impressed with their story and I got his book and read it,” LaGree said. “It is a wonderful book – very well written. Here’s a guy who has won three Emmy Awards, overcome a very serious handicap, and is a Simpson alumnus – so I wrote him a letter and invited him to come.”
It didn’t take Cohen long to respond.
“He got back to me pretty quickly,” LaGree said. “What I hadn’t calculated, but he noticed right away, was that it is going to be the 35th anniversary of his graduation.”
Cohen graduated with a double major in history and political science and became interested in journalism after meeting Peter Jennings, who visited campus in 1969. Cohen came to Simpson from Connecticut.
“I met the recruiters [from Simpson] and something appealed to me about the Midwest,” Cohen said.
Cohen’s visit to Simpson will be highly anticipated.
“I know quite a few people who have family members or know others with multiple sclerosis,” senior Amy Jobe said. “I’m excited to hear what he has to say.”
Cohen’s history is inspiring to other students with big goals.
“We can relate to the same Simpson experiences,” senior Heather Norris said. “It is inspirational that even from small-town Simpson, he was able to go on and do big things.”