Additionally, William & Mary alumna Linda Lavin (’59), a renowned theater and television actress, and Sherman Cohen, a philanthropist and one of the most successful real estate developers in the United States, will receive honorary degrees at the ceremony. Brokaw and Cohen will receive the honorary degree of doctor of humane letters. Lavin will receive the honorary degree of doctor of arts.
William & Mary chancellor and retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor will also attend the ceremony and deliver welcoming remarks.
“It’s hard to imagine anyone who has made a more lasting contribution to broadcast journalism during the last generation than Tom Brokaw, or anyone who has done more to capture in prose the tumultuous middle decades of the twentieth century,” said William & Mary president Taylor Reveley. “We look forward to his role at Commencement, and to honoring him along with two highly acclaimed members of the William & Mary family, Linda Lavin and Sherman Cohen.”
Brokaw has worked for NBC News since 1966. Currently a special correspondent for NBC, he anchored the “Today” show from 1976 to 1981 and served as anchor and managing editor of “NBC Nightly News” for 21 years, before stepping down in 2004. After the sudden death of Tim Russert in 2008, he served as interim moderator of NBC’s “Meet the Press” for six months.
Brokaw has interviewed every president since Lyndon B. Johnson and has covered every presidential election since 1968. He was the first American news anchor to report that the war in Iraq had begun, and he landed the first television interview with former President George W. Bush after he declared the end of major combat in the war. Brokaw was also the first to receive an exclusive one-on-one interview with Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev, and he was the first and only anchor to report from the scene the night the Berlin Wall fell. Additionally, he was NBC’s White House correspondent during the Watergate scandal in the 1970s, and he was the first American anchor to travel to Tibet to report on human-rights abuses and interview the Dalai Lama.
Brokaw's documentaries have focused on subjects such as race, AIDS, global warming, the war on terror, and immigration. After leaving the “NBC Nightly News” anchor desk in 2004, he traveled around the world talking to government officials, intelligence experts, and citizens personally affected by the events of September 11, 2001, to produce “The Long War,” an in-depth report on the war on terror, in 2005.
In addition to his work as a broadcast journalist, Brokaw is an acclaimed writer. His articles, essays and commentary have appeared in various publications, including the New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, Time, The New Yorker, Men’s Journal, Sports Illustrated, Life, National Geographic, Outside and Interview. His 1998 book on Americans who came of age during the Great Depression and World War II, “The Greatest Generation,” was a best-seller, and inspired 1999’s “The Greatest Generation Speaks.” In the first decade of the new millennium, he has already written three more books: “An Album of Memories,” “A Long Way Home,” and “BOOM! Voices of the Sixties.”
Brokaw has received numerous honors in the course of his career, including the Edward R. Murrow Lifetime Achievement Award and the Emmy Award for Lifetime Achievement. He was also inducted as a fellow into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Brokaw received the Records of Achievement Award from the Foundation for the National Archives; the Association of the U.S. Army’s highest award, the George Catlett Marshall Medal; the West Point Sylvanus Thayer Award; a dozen Emmys and two Peabody and duPont awards for journalistic achievements. Additionally, in 2003, “NBC Nightly News” received the Edward R. Murrow Award for Best Newscast for the fourth consecutive time.
Brokaw holds a degree in political science from the University of South Dakota.
A native of Portland, Maine, Lavin was a theater major at William & Mary. After graduating from the College in 1959, she headed to New York, and started her career as a singer in clubs and Off-Broadway shows. Her early stage credits include “The Mad Show” and “Little Murders,” for which she won the Critic’s Choice Award. She graduated to the chorus of a Broadway show, “A Family Affair,” and followed that with a featured part in “It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane… It’s Superman.” She went on to win a Tony nomination for her work in Neil Simon’s “Last of the Red Hot Lovers.”
After many guest roles on several TV series, Lavin took on her most famous role as single mother Alice Hyatt on the successful comedy “Alice,” which ran for nine years on CBS (1976-1985). She sang the theme song on the show, and won two Best Actress Golden Globe awards for her performance.
Lavin has performed in a broad range of productions on Broadway, including dramas, musicals, and comedies. In 1987, she received the Tony, Helen Hayes, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle awards for Neil Simon’s “Broadway Bound.” She won Tony nominations for her work in “The Diary of Anne Frank” and “The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife.”
Her role as “Alice” sparked Lavin’s political activism, and she has spoken to labor organizations and marched in rallies across the country in pursuit of equal rights. She has produced several movies for television, including “The $5.20 an Hour Dream,” “A Matter of Life and Death,” and “A Place to Call Home,” all about working women or single mothers. Several years ago, she established a foundation for inner city girls.
Lavin and her husband, Steve Bakunas, own and operate their own theater, the Red Barn Studio, in Wilmington, N.C., where she is currently starring in Alfred Uhry’s “Driving Miss Daisy.”
In 1984, William & Mary recognized Lavin with the Alumni Medallion. That same year she also served as the grand marshal for the Homecoming Parade. Last fall, Lavin returned to Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall to perform her one-woman concert, “Songs and Confessions of a One-Time Waitress,” on the same stage where she once starred in “Romeo and Juliet.”
Sherman Cohen was born in Suffolk, Va., and grew up in Newport News. He and his two brothers attended William & Mary during the Great Depression, and went on to begin their business careers in nearby Newport News. In 1949, the three brothers sold their Newport News men’s clothing stores and moved to New York City to expand their entrepreneurial horizons. In 1956 they began constructing mid-rise suburban apartments in Westchester County and then headed onto Manhattan’s Third Avenue to construct high-rise apartments known as “Cohen Corners.” Their real estate development ventures succeeded brilliantly. Cohen Brothers Realty Corporation holdings today include more than 12 million square feet of prime real estate throughout the United States. Sherman's son, Charles, now serves as president and CEO of the company, which has more than 400 employees.
Thanks to Sherman and his wife, Gloria, both devoted philanthropists, William & Mary broke ground for a new career center in the fall of 2008. The 11,000-gross-square-foot facility, which will be named The Sherman and Gloria H. Cohen Career Center, will be located at the heart of campus between Walter J. Zable Football Stadium and the Sadler Center.
In addition to the company’s commitment to the community through neighborhood parks, plazas, fountains and children’s literacy programs, the couple has also supported the Sherman and Gloria H. Cohen Pavilion at Greenwich Hospital in Greenwich, Conn. The Pavilion houses the Bendheim Cancer Center, a comprehensive Breast Center, and parking for outpatients. The Rogosin Institute in New York City named The Sherman & Gloria H. Cohen Dialysis Center in their honor. The Cohens are also among the largest contributors to the Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan and have helped create broader opportunities for medical education and research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University. They are also major contributors to the United Jewish Appeal Federation.