Jake Tapper ’91: ‘Be Bold, Be Smart, Be Brave, Be True’

Dartmouth confers nearly 1,900 degrees at tradition-filled commencement ceremony.

At Dartmouth’s 2017 commencement on the Green, CNN news anchor and political correspondent Jake Tapper ’91 told the graduating class that if they want successful careers, they should work twice as hard as the job requires. At the same, time, he said, they shouldn’t worry if they don’t yet know what they want to do with the rest of their lives. It took him a few years to realize that he wanted, more than anything else, to be a journalist.

Tapper made his commencement speech on a warm, breezy Sunday morning, before President Phil Hanlon ’77 conferred 1,898 bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in undergraduate and graduate programs from the Geisel School of Medicine, the School of Graduate and Advanced Studies, Thayer School of Engineering, and the Tuck School of Business.  

Reflecting on a career path that began at a free weekly newspaper in Washington, D.C., Tapper recalled his first big career break.

“My goal was to be the White House correspondent,” Tapper told the audience of about 12,000. “And I knew there was only one way I would get that job. I had to be so skilled and tough and industrious and vigilant that if my ABC News bosses made anyone else the White House correspondent, they would look like idiots. I had to force them to give it to me out of their own best interests.”

Just as important as a strong work ethic, Tapper added, is a willingness to accept criticism—a trait he finds all too rare among those who hold powerful jobs.

“Many people, you will see, rise to a level of success on which it becomes difficult to find people to challenge them and their ideas. And whether politicians or generals, news anchors or CEOs, that inevitably leads to their downfall,” he said.

Tapper also rattled off, at high speed, a light-hearted to-do list for life. “Write thank-you notes. Be a big tipper. Remember birthdays. Floss. Don’t tweet, post to Instagram, or email anything you wouldn’t feel comfortable seeing on the front page of The New York Times.”

Quoting Dartmouth alumnus Theodor Geisel ’25 (aka Dr. Seuss)—“The more that you read, the more things you will know, the more that you learn, the more places you will go,”—Tapper said that while he reveres the children’s author, Seuss depicted “the world as he wished it, with endings that were just and lessons that were learned.”

And that is not the world today’s graduates will enter, said Tapper. “The world outside Hanover can be cold,” he told them, and navigating it calls for strength of character. “Be bold. Be smart. Be brave. Be true.”

(See the video of Jake Tapper’s commencement speech.)

President Hanlon told the graduates that the world needs “minds like yours. We live in an age of unprecedented polarization, where logic and reason too often take a back seat to ideology, and where people regularly gather only those facts that support their point of view, and dismiss evidence to the contrary.” 

He is sometimes discouraged by today’s world, he told the gathering, but this year’s graduates have inspired him. The members of the Class of 2017, he said, “share a thirst to gather a diversity of perspectives, both historical and contemporary, and to consider them with an open mind.” Hanlon invited them to “come back often and keep Dartmouth in your hearts.”

(See the video of President Hanlon’s commencement speech.)

Yerin Yang ’17, from Seoul, Republic of Korea, one of four undergraduate valedictorians honored for earning a 4.0 grade point average, was chosen to present the valedictory to the College. Looking ahead to her 50th reunion in 2067, Yang predicted that she would forget some of the facts she learned in college, but would “never forget how Dartmouth taught me to think critically, dissect arguments, challenge conventions, and forge connections—all lessons that will prepare us in our next endeavors into the rest of our 20s and beyond.”

Yang’s fellow valedictorians are Brian Chen ’17, Zhecheng Yao ’17, and Ran Zhuo ’17.

(See the video of Yerin Yang’s commencement speech.)

Two other students, co-presidents of Native Americans at Dartmouth, Kohar Avakian ’17 and Maggie Seawright ’17, spoke briefly at the ceremony, noting that Dartmouth has matriculated more than 1,000 Native American students—more than all the other Ivy league colleges combined, they said.  

Hanlon conferred honorary degrees upon Tapper and eight other recipients. They are:

​Sunday’s ceremony, which began with an academic procession to the Green led by bagpiper Joshua Marks ’96, and featured music throughout by the Dartmouth College Wind Ensemble and the Dartmouth College Glee Club, capped an eventful weekend. On Saturday, physician Lori Arviso Alvord ’79, an author and the first Navajo woman to be board-certified in surgery, spoke at the multifaith baccalaureate service. Saturday also saw investiture ceremonies at Dartmouth’s School of Graduate and Advanced Studies, the Geisel School of Medicine, Thayer School of Engineering, and the Tuck School of Business.