Sandra Mims Rowe, the editor of The Oregonian in Portland, Oregon, was the commencement speaker for ECU's 88th spring ceremony.
In her address to the graduates and to the 17,000 guests attending the program in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, she said "passion will force you to focus on what matters to you."
"It will enrich your life by driving you to care deeply about matters of significance. It will give you courage. And it will push you to act with clarity and intelligence," she said.
Rowe recalled her years as a student at ECU in the 1960s. She said her experiences during "four of the most tumultuous years in this country's history" had taught her the lesson about passion that she did not realize she had learned until later.
"While I was in the sheltered comfort of university life, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were murdered; America endured the worst race riots in her history, Detroit was burned to such an extent it is only now truly recovering; in Chicago police shamelessly beat anti-war protesters to a bloody mess just outside the National Democratic Convention," she said.
Soon after her graduation in 1970 she became a newspaper file clerk and then a reporter in what was then called "the women's department."
"Over time, I came to realize the newspaper had a profound effect on the community. That what I did as a reporter -- and how well I did it -- really mattered," she said.
She said passion is the fuel that drives her today and she looks for it in the people she hires.
"I've seen the difference passion for something can make in people's lives. And I'm not inclined to hire people who can't get worked up over something outside of themselves."
Rowe is president of the American Society of Newspapers Editors. Since 1994, she has been a member of the Pulitzer Prize Board, which selects the Pulitzer Prize winners each year. Prior joining The Oregonian, the largest newspaper in the northwest, she was the executive editor and vice president of the Virginian-Pilot and Ledger-Star in Norfolk.
Along with the recognition of its graduates, ECU awarded honorary degrees to Janice Faulkner, commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles, and to Dr. LeRoy Walker, the former head of the U.S. Olympic Committee.
Faulkner, an ECU alumna, has been a professor, a regional development specialist and has served as North Carolina's Secretary of State and Secretary of Revenue.
"For the first time in my life I am close to speechless," she said after receiving the Doctorate of Letters Degree. "I am deeply honored."
Walker was recognized for his career as an athlete, coach, administrator and worldwide humanitarian. He said he was delighted to join the graduates as an alum of East Carolina University.
"My association will be continued because this university will have the first and only International Human Performance Center," he said.
The center was established earlier this year as a site where Olympic athletes can come for physical tests and for help in choosing the proper regimens for
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