Gwen Ifill, award-winning journalist and best-selling author, will be the principal speaker at Lafayette’s 176th Commencement on Saturday, May 21, and will be awarded an honorary degree.
Ifill is the moderator and managing editor of PBS’ Washington Week, the longest-running prime-time news and public affairs program on television, and senior correspondent for The PBS Newshour. She is also the author of the bestselling book The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama, published in 2009.
“I’m delighted that Gwen Ifill will address our graduates and parents at Commencement,” says President Daniel H. Weiss. “She is one of the most influential women in America and one of the nation’s most effective communicators and most respected journalists.”
Ifill reports on a wide range of issues from foreign affairs to U.S. politics and policies, interviewing national and international newsmakers. She has covered six presidential campaigns and moderated vice-presidential debates in 2004, between Dick Cheney, the Republican vice president, and John Edwards, Democratic senator from North Carolina, and in 2008, between Joe Biden, Democratic senator from Delaware, and Sarah Palin, the Republican governor of Alaska.
On Washington Week, Ifill leads a roundtable discussion with award-winning journalists who provide reporting and analysis of major stories emanating from the nation’s capital. The program is now in its 42nd year on the air. During the 2008 presidential campaign season, Washington Week launched a 10-city series of road shows across America with live audiences. The regular broadcasts and whistle-stop series earned the program a George Foster Peabody Award. The awards recognize distinguished achievement and meritorious service by broadcasters, cable and Webcasters, producing organizations, and individuals. The Peabody board cited Washington Week for “its reasoned, reliable contribution to the national discourse,” and called it the gold standard “for public-affairs enthusiasts who prefer illumination to confrontational fireworks.”
Before coming to PBS in 1999, she was the chief congressional and political correspondent for NBC News, White House correspondent for the New York Times, and a local and national political reporter for the Washington Post. She also reported for the Baltimore Evening Sun and Boston Herald American.
“Being a journalist has taught me the difference between skepticism and cynicism, and how it is a virtue to have a little of both. I’m skeptical about almost everything. I’m cynical about almost nothing,” Ifill said when she was awarded the Goldsmith Career Award for Excellence in Journalism by Harvard’s Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy in 2009. “Being skeptical and being a journalist has taught me that the best lessons are not necessarily learned from the people with the most power or the loftiest titles, but sometimes just by keeping your eyes open.”
Ifill’s work also has been honored by the National Press Foundation, Radio and Television News Directors Association, Ebony Magazine, and Suffolk University’s Ford Hall Forum.
A native of New York City, Ifill earned a bachelor’s degree in communications at Simmons College in Boston. She is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and serves on the boards of the News Literacy Project and the Committee to Protect Journalists.