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NBCUniversal Chair Bonnie Hammer tells Class of 2017 to “write their story”

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Nickerson Field was a sea of scarlet on Sunday afternoon as the Boston University Class of 2017 came together one last time to celebrate their accomplishments as newly minted graduates.

Over 20,000 guests attended BU’s 144th All-University Commencement ceremony that included over 6,500 graduates as well as many friends, family and faculty.

Bonnie Hammer, a NBCUniversal chair and 1971 College of Communication alumna, delivered the keynote commencement address, giving the graduates advice on how to tell “the story of you.”

Hammer’s speech focused on five key elements to make a story compelling: a strong lead, supporting cast, conflict, interesting setting and something new to discover. To emphasize these points, Hammer told stories of her experience working in the television industry, ranging from her job as a dog handler and intern at WGBH to her first day as an executive for World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc.

“Life dishes out plenty of crap, figuratively and literally,” Hammer said. “It’s how you handle the crap that counts.”

Hammer, who grew up in a Russian-Jewish household in Queens, New York, said she faced her share of anti-Semitism growing up and encouraged students to not engage with hate, and instead embrace diversity by listening to one another’s stories.

“When you step outside your bubble, you’ll develop more empathy for people with whom you disagree,” Hammer said. “You’ll develop a stronger sense of self and become a better advocate for what you believe.”

Hammer concluded her speech by encouraging graduates to go on and write their own story.

“Today your story begins anew,” Hammer said. “You have everything you need to make it a great one. Now all you have to do is write it, tell it and live it fully.”

Though the day was focused on honoring the Class of 2017, the crowd erupted when honorary degree recipient David Ortiz, fondly known as Big Papi, took the stage to receive his honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.

Ortiz played professional baseball for 20 years, including 14 seasons with the Red Sox before founding the David Ortiz Children’s Fund. A three-time World Series champion, Ortiz’s most recent championship took place in 2013, during many of the graduates’ first semester at BU. He took the microphone at the ceremony to say a quick “thank you” to the crowd before being ushered back to his seat.

Other honorary degree recipients included chair of BU’s Parents Leadership Council Jeanne Knox, her husband Robert Knox — a former chair of the Board of Trustees — and Mario Molina, the recipient of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

The ceremony also honored outstanding faculty with the Metcalf Awards for Excellence in Teaching, including the highest honor for a university professor, the Metcalf Cup, which was awarded to Naomi Mann, a professor in the School of Law. During the ceremony, President Robert Brown described Mann, who started teaching in the School of Law in 2013, as “indispensable.”

The other two Metcalf Awards were awarded to Sophie Godley, the director of Undergraduate Education at the School of Public Health, and Gary Lawson, the Philip S. Beck Professor of Law in the School of Law.

The student speech was delivered by Maxwell Robidoux, a graduate of the College of Arts and Sciences. He encouraged his classmates to go forth and “never become ignorant of our society, human nature and the natural environment.”

After the ceremony, students said they were surprised and impressed by Hammer’s speech.

James Flahive, a COM graduate, said he was originally apprehensive about Hammer’s lack of fame in comparison to Ortiz, but was ultimately moved by her speech.

“Her words were really impactful and it was really nice to hear an alumna speak. I almost cried 50 times,” Flahive said. “I’m looking forward to having the chance to confer the same kind of warmth and openness and opportunities.”

Richard Waterhouse, a CAS graduate, said he enjoyed how relatable Hammer’s experiences felt.

“I like that she tied it to actual TV stories and other experiences that we can actually relate to in trying to make our lives the best story we can,” Waterhouse said.

Looking back on their time at BU, several graduates said that they would miss the diversity on campus and in the classroom.

Ahmad Syah, a Metropolitan College graduate, said apart from running along the Charles River Esplanade, cultural diversity is something he will miss about BU.

“This is a great community where there is huge diversity as students and where everyone is appreciated and treated with respect and dignity as all people should be,” Syah said.

Dini Hajarrahmah, another MET graduate, said one of the most memorable moments she had as a BU student didn’t take place on campus, but instead in traveling to Tanzania with one of her classes.

“The experience BU provides beyond the classroom has made such a huge impact on my time here and my life in general,” Hajarrahmah said.

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