Brokaw discusses state of the U.S.

Tom Brokaw told an audience at Bovard Auditorium that Americans need to renew their sense of solidarity

Steffi Lau, staff writer
Daily Trojan
April 18, 2008

"These are unsettling times," renowned journalist Tom Brokaw told a full audience in Bovard Auditorium on Thursday night.

Brokaw spoke to students as part of the President's Distinguished Lecture Series, discussing the current state of the nation and what the younger generation needs to do to move forward.

Since his retirement four years ago as anchor and managing editor of "NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw," he has remained a special correspondent for NBC News.

After covering key events around the world for four decades, Brokaw has become a trusted figure on social issues.

He said his speech aimed to provide an "earnest discussion about where we are in this country," and told the audience he was privileged to speak at USC, drawing applause and laughter.

"If I was speaking at the University of Texas, I would have to speak slowly and use shorter words," he said.

He went on to describe USC as the "University of Superior Collegians."

Brokaw spoke of the temptation to say that we are living in the worst of times, with a war and severe changes occurring in the country.

He described the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. and the turmoil of the country during Vietnam War, saying that even during those times, people had a common obligation.

"When we were fighting in Vietnam, people were conscious of it everyday," Brokaw said. "Now here, at this hour, we're not aware of what's going on in Afghanistan."

He said that when he walks through hospitals and sees a young man with a missing limb or a young woman with brain injuries, he wonders what the families think of American civilians.

"Do we find a way to be aware in daily lives of what they're going through?" Brokaw said. "It seems to me we need to find a way to connect. No matter how much we hate the war, we should feel an obligation to these families."

Brokaw talked about the generation that grew up during the Great Depression and fought during World War II, which his book "The Greatest Generation" is based upon.

He said that despite the hardships they faced, the people of that generation went on to provide public service to the nation after the war and helped build America.

He addressed the need of the current college-age generation, which he described as having "the attention of a gnat on a summer night," to learn from the older generation that citizenship requires active participation and that technology cannot fix problems.

"We need to let these people know that life is not virtual," Brokaw said. "They need to learn to take their hands off the keyboard, and learn that problems cannot be solved by hitting delete. Global warming cannot be solved by hitting backspace."

Brokaw said people have lost the common commitment and mentality that "we're all in this together."

Amid his speech about the current turmoil of the nation, Brokaw said the media has a key role to play in being facilitators of a national discussion.

He spoke of media as a two-way relationship, in that people need to demand more from news while the media needs to cover serious issues rather than superficial ones.

Pauline Martinez, an administrative assistant in the USC Marshall School of Business and a student majoring in public policy, management and planning, grew up listening to Brokaw on the nightly news.

She agreed with Brokaw's views of the college-age generation, saying that the older generation could teach the younger generation.

"The fast pace of everyday life causes us to stop thinking," she said. "It's too easy to look at life superficially. My biggest concern is that we focus on real issues instead of superficial news about Britney Spears."

Brokaw's advice to the nation took on a special significance in light of the approaching presidential elections.

He encouraged the audience to get involved and "have a national conversation about who we are, what we want and how to get there."

Annie Freeman, a sophomore majoring in theatre, took his words to heart and said Brokaw inspired her to become more informed.

"I think our generation does do a lot," she said. "But there is a certain amount of laziness. It's easy for us to get spoiled and follow an easy pattern of school, but there's more for us to do to make a difference."

While the talk of the troubled times might have been negative, Brokaw ended on a positive note, saying, "This too, can be the greatest generation."

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