Journalist and host of MSNBC’s “Hardball” Chris Matthews entertained an enthusiastic crowd of students, alumni and parents this past Saturday. As one of the marquee events of this year’s Meliora Weekend, Matthews’ speech nearly filled the Palestra to capacity.
Matthews began his speech with a few jokes, alluding to Darrell Hammond’s parodies of the “Hardball” program on “Saturday Night Live” and providing a lighter view of his infamous interview with former Georgia Senator Zell Miller.
The speech focused on three experiences he said shaped him the most – his work in the Peace Corps, his work in politics and his career in journalism.
Matthews explained how his experiences in the Peace Corps – in his words, living as a “bourgeoisie Che Guereva” – gave him skills to help him succeed as a journalist. For example, from teaching numerous entrepreneurs in southern Africa how to run a business, he became comfortable interacting with strangers.
He also mentioned how his experiences as a congressional staffer played an integral role in the development of his character. In addition to learning the nature of politics, he learned the importance of maintaining beliefs regardless of their popularity – how to, as he quoted former Senator Edmund Muskie, “be out there all alone, and then be right.”
Matthews ended his speech with reflections on the third significant phase of his life – journalism. Spending time in Hungary and East Germany throughout 1989, he witnessed the fall of communism. Juxtaposing those experiences with the Cold War tension that he grew up with, he mentioned how – within a lifetime – he “lived under the threat of communism and was there to see it go the other way.”
During the question and answer session, he gave his opinions on the ethics scandal that has embroiled White House Senior Advisor Karl Rove and Deputy Chief of Staff “Scooter” Libby, the 2006 and 2008 election years and the state of today’s media.
“It was interesting to hear Matthews talk about his experiences in Africa and how he recommends traveling abroad as a route to making it in Washington politics, because of the people you meet, the personal skills you develop and the issues about which you learn,” senior Adam Bink said. “Having spent a semester in Washington and being interested in pursuing a career in campaigns and politics myself, I learned an additional piece of advice to help me on my way. It was great.”
Sophomore Erik Tobiason thought that Matthews’ remarks were, “surprisingly transcendent, especially his take on ‘American Exceptionalism,’ which is that America is a place where people can be who they want to be. He inspired me to think about the Peace Corps as a post-graduation option.”
“[Matthews] was absolutely mesmerizing,” Member of the Board of Trustees and National Reunion cochair Gwen Green ’65 said. “He managed to connect to students, alumni and parents. Everyone took something home.”