Tom Brokaw
Author, journalist and news anchor Tom Brokaw speaks Monday night at the SUB Ballroom on the campus of Montana State University.

At the end of a stirring speech about the challenges America has faced and the ways it has overcome them, journalist and author Tom Brokaw asked a sold-out audience of 1,400 at Montana State University to "take a pledge."

"Take a pledge to re-enlist as Americans," Brokaw told the crowd.

The man who anchored the NBC Nightly News for more than two decades and whom MSU President Waded Cruzado called "one of the most respected and accomplished journalists in our time" was given an honorary doctorate from the university Monday night in light of his storied career.

In his famous baritone, Brokaw accepted the honor with self-deprecation, saying his original degree was also called "honorary" by one professor.

But humor gave way to gravity as he wove the history of the nation together with what he sees as the challenges the country faces today: the continuation of the two longest wars the United States has ever fought, the economic downturn, and unrest in a region of the world that America has become dependent on -- and has sunk "blood and treasury" into -- because of its oil.

"This is a wake up call. It's not a time to look back, it's a time to look forward," he said.

And during what could be described as a motivational speech, Brokaw recounted the times in the past that the United States has risen to the occasion, particularly the group he famously dubbed "the greatest generation."

They were the generation who grew up through the Great Depression and then fought in World War II.

"It would have been easy enough for them to come home (from war) and say, ‘I did my part.' They didn't," he said. "They went to college in record numbers. They got married in record numbers. They gave us new industries and new freedoms."

He gave a timeline of 1968: the Vietnam War raged, Martin Luther King, then Robert Kennedy, were assassinated, a generation of young Americans rebelled against the conventions of mainstream America. Yet at Cape Canaveral, Fla., scientists and pilots were hard at work to send Americans to the Moon, and launched a preliminary mission that year that gave astronauts an outside look at Earth in all its beauty.

Today, with energy prices soaring and competition from China and India ever-growing, education in America must be put at a premium, Brokaw said, in order to develop the next generation of engineers and entrepreneurs that will lead the country forward.

"Education is the great coin, the currency of the challenges that are before us," he said.

In regards to media's role, he said the press has changed for the better, but it demands more from the consumer.

"It's richer and deeper than it ever has been, but it takes from you a more pro-active intelligence," he said.

And he warned against what he at one point described as the "cable news food fight."

"We cannot go forth as a great nation if we are constantly involved in a series of accusations and food fights," he said. "We cannot get stalled by petty feuds. We need to look at the big picture. We are at a pivotal time in this nation."

Daniel Person can be reached at dperson@dailychronicle.com or 582-2665.

 

 

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