Russert True to Form in Harvard Address

A number of graduating Harvard University students thought they were pretty sure what they'd hear from NBC's Tim Russert when he delivered the Class Day address this year. It turns out they were right. Melissa Block talks with students Max Brodsky and David Ferris.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Graduating seniors at Harvard played a new kind of parlor game yesterday. They called it Tim Russert Bingo. Tim Russert of NBC News was this year's speaker at Class Day festivities, the day before graduation. Well, some crafty Harvard seniors had read a newspaper story that said Russert essentially recycles the same graduation speech many times over. Students Max Brodsky and David Ferris looked up the text of that speech and printed up bingo cards with key Russert phrases in each square. Then they passed them out to about 50 classmates and let the fun begin.

Mr. MAX BRODSKY: We told people to mark off that particular phrase, the square that it was in. And if they get, of course, five in a row, they can shout out `Bingo!' And people did.

Mr. DAVID FERRIS: It was fun and actually not disruptive, I'd say.

BLOCK: Now did Tim Russert show any signs that he could hear what you were doing, and was he puzzled by it if he did?

Mr. BRODSKY: I don't think anyone shouted that loudly, and Tim Russert has a pretty booming voice. So I didn't notice him, you know, reacting to any of that. And, you know, even when people shouted out `Bingo,' not everybody could hear it.

Mr. FERRIS: Yeah. It wasn't meant to interrupt the event and--rather, to complement it, and I think it did that. And he ended up giving a good speech, and I enjoyed it on multiple levels.

Mr. BRODSKY: Yeah. And I should say also that I really enjoyed Tim Russert's speech, the many times that I read it online, all the different versions. And I enjoyed it just as much when I heard it in person. You know, I actually really like his message a whole lot.

BLOCK: David, do you have your Tim Russert Bingo card in front of you?

Mr. FERRIS: Yeah, it's right here.

BLOCK: OK. Well, tell me what a couple of the phrases were that you were listening for, that you were pretty sure that he would be recycling in this speech?

Mr. FERRIS: We had references to James Carville, John Sununu. Some of the longer phrases included `the last grueling hurdle in your career here at Harvard,' and at the conclusion of the speech, `only 2,300 weeks before you're eligible for Social Security.'

BLOCK: Yeah. Well, let's listen. We have some tape of Tim Russert speaking earlier this spring in the commencement at American University here in Washington.

(Soundbite of speech)

Mr. TIM RUSSERT: You can do it, but please get busy. You only have 2,300 weeks before you'll be eligible for Social Security.

BLOCK: Sound a little familiar, David and Max?

Mr. FERRIS: Absolutely.

Mr. BRODSKY: Indeed.

BLOCK: Did you get that one on your bingo card?

Mr. BRODSKY: We did.

Mr. FERRIS: Absolutely. Checked off.

Mr. BRODSKY: And I have to say he does deliver the line beautifully.

Mr. FERRIS: Yeah.

BLOCK: It does seem like it's kind of part of the deal with graduation speeches. You've just got to assume that whoever's giving them has given a bunch of them before and probably is not going to be rewriting much every time.

Mr. FERRIS: Sure. In fact, I included on the card a generic space of a reference to the fact that he always gives the same speech.

BLOCK: Well, did anybody in your class, who was sitting there with you at Class Day, maybe parents of the people in your class, look at you with expressions of disapproval thinking you were muddying up what could have been a very nice day?

Mr. BRODSKY: I handed different versions of the bingo sheet to a friend of mine and his father, and the friend reported to me later that his parents were, you know, very engaged and very happy to be playing along with him as the speech went on. But when he finally got `bingo' and shouted out, you know, during the middle of the speech, that they appeared to be very embarrassed.

BLOCK: They were?

Mr. BRODSKY: But the family that was sitting next to my family, they looked pretty serious and engaged the whole time. But when my cousin missed one of the squares, the girl next to her, you know, lurched forward and said, `This one, you missed this one!'

BLOCK: Did you take anything away from Tim Russert's speech?

Mr. FERRIS: I guess I learned that, you know, reiterated words can still be appropriate to the occasion.

Mr. BRODSKY: That's right. And I did still find his speech to be inspiring, and I'm really glad that he came to speak.

BLOCK: Well, Max Brodsky and David Ferris, congratulations on your graduation.

Mr. BRODSKY: Thank you very much.

Mr. FERRIS: Thank you so much.

BLOCK: Max Brodsky and David Ferris are Harvard graduates as of today. Tim Russert couldn't speak with us before deadline today. An NBC spokesperson told us, quote, "Tim speaks about life lessons, and his message is consistent and does not change, nor should it. There is virtue in consistency."

(Soundbite of music)

ROBERT SIEGEL (Host): You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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