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Broadcast news icon Jim Lehrer to address W&M graduates

  • The face of PBS news
    The face of PBS news  Jim Lehrer, the iconic public broadcasting journalist, has been involved with the PBS NewsHour and its earlier carnations for more than 36 years.  Photo courtesy of PBS
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National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis ’75 and Amherst President Carolyn “Biddy” Martin ’73 also to be honored at Commencement

Broadcast news icon Jim Lehrer, a fixture for decades as lead anchor for the Public Broadcasting System and a frequent moderator of presidential debates, will deliver the 2012 Commencement remarks at the College of William & Mary.

Lehrer, the longtime host of the “PBS NewsHour,” will receive an honorary degree during the May 13, 2012, ceremony in William & Mary Hall. William & Mary alumnus Jonathan Jarvis ’75, director of the National Park Service, and alumna Carolyn “Biddy” Martin ’73, president of Amherst College, will also receive honorary degrees at the ceremony. William & Mary Chancellor Robert M. Gates ‘65, who retired last year as the U.S. Secretary of Defense, will attend the ceremony and offer welcoming remarks.

“For decades at PBS, Jim Lehrer stood in the forefront of the most knowledgeable and trusted voices on television news. He has also been a cherished friend of the entire Williamsburg area, including serving for years as a trustee of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation,” said President Taylor Reveley. “Mr. Lehrer will be a marvelous Commencement speaker. We are also delighted to bring back to campus two extremely distinguished alumni. Jon Jarvis, the director of the National Park Service, is chief protector of many of our country’s most wonderful landscapes. Biddy Martin is one of the preeminent educators in the United States. The first woman to be president of Amherst College, she previously served as chancellor of the University of Wisconsin- Madison and provost of Cornell.

“Our recently inaugurated 24th Chancellor, Bob Gates, will also be back with us for words of commencement welcome,” added Reveley. “All in all, it will be quite a ceremony.”

Jim Lehrer

Lehrer has spent more than five decades as a journalist, including 36 years as anchor of the PBS’s flagship newscast. He stepped down as anchor of the “NewsHour” last May but has remained involved in broadcasts and editorial direction as executive editor of the popular program.

All told, Lehrer has worked for more than 52 years as a both a print reporter and broadcast journalist. He was chosen to serve as moderator for 11 presidential debates over the past six presidential elections. In 1999, he was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame with his longtime broadcast partner Robert MacNeil.

A native of Wichita, Kansas, Lehrer received his associate’s degree from Victoria College and a bachelor’s degree in 1956 from the University of Missouri. After three years of service in the U.S. Marine Corps, he started his journalism career as a reporter at The Dallas Morning News and then the Dallas Times-Herald, where he also served as a political columnist before becoming city editor in 1968.

Lehrer’s newspaper career eventually led him to broadcast news in Dallas. He later moved to Washington D.C. to serve as public affairs coordinator for PBS. He was also a member of PBS’s Journalism Advisory Board and became a correspondent for the National Public Affairs Center for Television (NPACT). At NPACT, Lehrer teamed up with MacNeil, and in 1973 the pair provided continuous live, Emmy-winning coverage of the Senate Watergate hearings, which were broadcast on PBS. 

In October 1975, the half hour “Robert MacNeil Report” premiered on Thirteen/WNET New York with Lehrer as its Washington correspondent. The following year it was renamed “The MacNeil/Lehrer Report.” The news program went on to win more than 30 awards for journalistic excellence over its first seven years. In 1983, “The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour” was launched, and the award-winning team continued until the 1995-96 season when MacNeil departed the show and the program was renamed “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.” In 2009, it became the “PBS NewsHour” as the network expanded the program’s role both online and on air.

Lehrer has received numerous awards and honors, including two Emmys, the Chairman’s Award at the 2010 National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences News & Documentary Emmy Awards, the 1999 National Humanities Award, and the 2011 Fourth Estate Award -- the National Press Club’s highest honor. Also in 2011, he was honored with Colonial Williamsburg’s Churchill Bell, the foundation’s highest honor.

Lehrer is the author of 20 novels, two memoirs and three plays. His 23rd book, “Tension City: Inside the Presidential Debates, from Kennedy-Nixon to Obama-McCain” was released this past September.

Jonathan Jarvis ‘75

Following a nomination by President Barack Obama, Jonathan Jarvis became the 18th director of the National Park Service in October 2009. A career ranger, he has served the park service for more than three decades, starting in 1976 as a seasonal interpreter in the nation’s capital.

Jonathan Jarvis '75Today, Jarvis oversees an agency that includes more than 20,000 employees and 140,000 volunteers who work in 391 national park sites and related cultural and natural heritage programs. Prior to becoming the director, Jarvis had served since 2002 as regional director of the Pacific West Region. He has moved through the ranks as a protection ranger, a resource management specialist, a park biologist and head of natural and cultural resources at parks from Virginia to Texas to the Pacific Northwest. His first job as park superintendent was at Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho. He later served as superintendent of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in Alaska, as well as the 235,000-acre Mount Rainier National Park in Washington.

A biology major as an undergraduate at William & Mary, Jarvis has published papers and lectured on the role of science in parks at conferences across the country. Jarvis, a native of Lexington, Va., completed the Harvard Kennedy School Executive Program in 2001.

Carolyn “Biddy” Martin ‘73

This past June, Carolyn “Biddy” Martin was elected the 19th president of Amherst College. She had previously served as chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and as Cornell University’s provost.

A native of Campbell County, Va., Martin majored in English literature at William & Mary, where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa. She spent her junior year studying abroad at Exeter. During her senior year in 1972-73, Martin played for the women’s basketball team, averaging nearly nine points a game – including a season high of 17 points against Virginia Commonwealth University.

Following her time in Williamsburg, Martin went on to earn a master’s degree in German literature from Middlebury College's program at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz,  and received her Ph.D. from UW-Madison. Carolyn Martin '73

A noted scholar of German studies and author of two books and numerous articles, Martin served on the faculty at Cornell for more than two decades. She began as an assistant professor of German studies and women studies. Martin later became chair of the German studies department and then senior associate dean of Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences. In 2000, she became provost, serving as Cornell’s chief educational and chief operating officer. She held that post until 2008, when she was named chancellor at UW-Madison, Wisconsin’s flagship university campus.

As chancellor, Martin led a number of successful initiatives to increase need-based financial aid, improve undergraduate education and enhance research at the university. The Madison Initiative for Undergraduates, for example, promoted student advising, innovations in undergraduate programs and new faculty positions. Martin also led an effort for UW-Madison to gain greater operating flexibility and increased autonomy.