A Commencement Speech Fit for a King

Gayle King at podium

King in her commencement speech noted the signs wrapped around Purple Line construction: “‘Future home of something fearless.’ I love the sound of that. That’s us.” Watch her speech during the ceremony livestream at go.umd.edu/Commencement2023.

Fall 2023 Campus Life

News Anchor Gayle King ’76 Recalls Life, Love and Ledo on First Return to Campus

Preparing to write her first commencement speech at her alma mater, “CBS Mornings” anchor Gayle King ’76 turned to fellow Terp Larry David ’70 for advice. And when the famously cranky comedian failed to deliver, she tried a more reliable source for inspiration: Testudo.

King rubbed his nose during a tour of old College Park haunts and the University of Maryland campus in May before delivering the 2023 Commencement address to an audience of thousands at SECU Stadium.

She hadn’t been on campus since the day before her own graduation—which she skipped—and the memories came flooding back.

ON ATTENDING HER FIRST COMMENCEMENT: “For reasons that make absolutely no sense to me now,” King said, she and her sister missed her commencement to catch an early-morning flight to the Bahamas the next day. She had since declined “many, many” requests during her career to speak at commencements elsewhere: “If you’re going to do one, shouldn’t it be at the place where you got your degree?”

Gayle King sits on bed in dorm

Photo by Stephanie S. Cordle

ON BEING AN RA: During the high times of the 1970s, King, a self-described “square,” occasionally had to bust students for illicit substances when she was a resident assistant in Hagerstown Hall. “They’d go, ‘Gayle, you don’t smoke weed. How do you know we’re smoking weed?’ Because I know the smell of weed,” King said.

ON GETTING YOUR HEART BROKEN: King recalled being a community assistant at La Plata Hall, where future NBA star turned sportscaster Len Elmore ’74 would sign in to visit his girlfriend.

“I had the biggest crush on him.” But he wasn’t her only unrequited love at UMD, telling graduates: “You’ve made it through a bazillion exams, disappointments in life, and yes, in love. I had that too at the University of Maryland, but I’m not bitter ... his name was Wayne.”

ON LEDO PIZZA: King is a famous fan of the Adelphi-born institution, even introducing it to her BFF during a tour of the country’s best pizza restaurants on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” During her May visit, she swung by to nosh on Mike’s Hot Honey pepperoni pizza.

ON BUILDING RESILIENCE: King was in her La Plata Hall room as a freshman when she got a call on the hall phone from a neighbor telling her to come home, because her father had died. Sitting in traffic on Baltimore Avenue, she turned and saw a car, top down, full of classmates enjoying the sunshine and blasting their music. She thought then, “Why hadn’t their world stopped too?” Looking back, she said, “The only thing to do is to take one step forward, just one.”

ON GIVING THIS SPEECH: At a recent dinner party, she told the “Seinfeld” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” creator that she was giving the commencement address, and he responded flatly, “Why?” She said in return, “Why not?” And he said, “‘Cause it’s hard!” King told the graduates, “My first piece of advice to you: Do not go to Larry David for a pep talk.”


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