Leslie Moonves to Bucknell Grads: ‘When Change Comes, Embrace It’

Leslie Moonves
Courtesy of Bucknell University Division of Communications

CBS chief Leslie Moonves delivered the commencement address at his alma mater Bucknell University this week, encouraging graduates to do “whatever you think that will make you happy” and recalling his transition from aspiring medical student to aspiring actor.

Moonves told the story of how, after he struggled through his first organic chemistry course, he told his father that he no longer wanted to pursue a degree in medicine. Instead, the younger Moonves planned to move to New York after graduation to become an actor.

“He offered me this unbelievable piece of advice: ‘Happiness? You think that’s all there is to life?’ Think about that for a second,” the CBS Corp. CEO said. “With all due respect to my wonderful dad, I think at least that one time, I was right and he was wrong. I think when I made the cover of the business section of the New York Times, he finally acknowledged that I may have made the right choice going a different way.”

Moonves, who graduated from Bucknell in 1971 with a degree in Spanish, credited his liberal-arts training with his later success in television.

“Were my 20th Century Lit and Shakespeare courses worthwhile? Well, as a TV executive, they prepared me to evaluate just about any show I am likely to see,” Moonves said. “Every plotline, every point of view in every comedy or drama out there comes from the original works you studied here.”

He went on to encourage graduates to pursue “whatever you dream. Whatever you crave for yourself and those you love. And yes, whatever you think that will make you happy. Don’t be too quick to accept anything less. Your great preparation here has made it possible for you to have the courage to be open to whatever comes. And when change comes, embrace it. You’re prepared for that too.”

Moonves also discussed the rapid advances in technology that have taken place since he was a student. He recalled standing in line to use the pay phone in his dorm as a freshman.

“Back then, we were actually smarter than the phones were,” he said. “I grew up in an age of three channels on TV and zero apps. You’re going into a world where you can literally start your own channels and make your own movies on your iPhone.”

The commencement ceremony was the 166th in the Lewisburg, Pa. university’s history. The school presented degrees to 867 graduates.

Moonves, who received an honorary doctorate from the university, also took a moment to bask in his own achievement.

“Today wiser heads than mine here at Bucknell have generously give me a doctor of humane letters,” he said. “I want to offer very humble thanks for that. It means my parents, who God bless are still alive, can start bragging to all their friends that he’s finally a doctor. It’s a fulfillment of a lifelong dream — more specifically, my parents’ life long.”