William “Bill” Baker began his commencement address Sunday with a confession.
As a triple alumnus of Case Western Reserve, he had attended three graduation ceremonies here.
“That’s three commencement speeches,” he said, “of which I don’t remember a word.”
Still, the experience proved instructive for the television broadcast pioneer, prompting him to leave the Class of 2020 with a single, brief piece of advice: “Be kind.”
Baker, who launched the Discovery and Disney channels as president of Westinghouse Television and went on to lead New York Public Television for more than two decades, spoke to graduates and families not from the podium of the Veale Convocation Recreation and Athletic Center, but instead his home in Connecticut.
The Case Western Reserve Class of 2020 has had many memorable moments—including this year’s unconventional commencement ceremonies. Watch a video highlighting some of their CWRU experience, from orientation to graduation.
He appeared on screen as part of the virtual commencement Case Western Reserve observed this year because risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic prevented large in-person gatherings. Baker and university leaders recorded the ceremonies in advance and then broadcast them online at the originally scheduled time.
As thousands watched from around the world, President Barbara R. Snyder presented honorary degrees to Baker and two other alumni: Bob Herbold and Suzanne Walsh.
Herbold, the former chief operating officer of Microsoft, has authored several business books, appears frequently on television as a business commentator, and, through his foundation, has provided significant scholarship support to students in science, mathematics and engineering fields.
The commencement convocation ceremony and the diploma ceremonies that followed still can be viewed online. Visit case.edu/commencement to find a recording of the ceremony, including downloadable slides of each graduate.
Walsh serves as president of Bennett College in North Carolina, one of two historically black colleges for women in the U.S. She worked previously in esteemed philanthropic organizations like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Lumina Foundation and The Heinz Endowments.
Baker, the author of four books on leadership and management and a longtime executive himself, acknowledged that he did not think he had time for kindness early in his career. He had launched a hugely successful local television morning show in Cleveland, then been wooed to Baltimore to lift a local station’s sagging ratings.
Among his ideas was a daily talk show, co-hosted by a news anchor who had been recently demoted after showing too much emotion on screen.
Her name? Oprah Winfrey.
As part Baker’s later research for his writings, he found dozens upon dozens of academic studies that illustrated the effectiveness of the approach as well. He also came to know another television star renowned for his gentle spirit: Fred Rogers.
The host of the eponymous children’s show on public television, Rogers once told Baker that at the beginning and end of every day, he would close his eyes and think about the people who had helped him, expressing gratitude to them all.
Baker urged the graduates to emulate Rogers after the graduation ceremony, offering appreciating those who had helped them realize the moment.
“The effects of that simple thanks may last long beyond this time of hardship, and long after you’ve forgotten who your commencement speaker was.
“But I hope you’ll always remember: Be kind.”