MSNBC’s Katy Tur tells UCSB graduates in Humanities and Fine Arts and Social Sciences how studying philosophy helped her navigate the world of broadcast journalism
At a time when young people are confronting “not the best of all possible worlds,” broadcast journalist Katy Tur told a UC Santa Barbara Commencement audience on Sunday that graduates will find success if they pursue what they love and find meaningful.
“Sometimes what makes a job fun is that it matters – or at least you believe it matters.”
Tur graduated from UCSB in 2005 with a major in Philosophy and went on to a career as an NBC news correspondent and an anchor for MSNBC. She covered Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and in September, 2017 published Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History, which debuted on the New York Times bestseller list.
She is a strong supporter of education in the Humanities and believes it to be an effective career path. “A philosophy degree can get you somewhere, parents, I promise,” Tur told the crowd of several thousands, many huddling under umbrellas on an uncharacteristically foggy morning.
She began her remarks to 1500 graduates by resisting the urge to deliver a sermon on the role of journalism in democracy— though she said that just last Friday her editorial team had found five lies within one hour of fact-checking President Trump’s statements.
“I am expected to give you a big baritone speech about truth in journalism. But I do that every day,” she said. “Since you are graduating from UCSB I know you already know how to separate fact from fiction… I do want to talk about fun.”
Clearly nostalgic for the fun of her more carefree college days at UCSB, Tur recounted how she cancelled plans to apply to law school a day after stopping to cover a fire in Malibu while she was still a student.
“I felt like I was experiencing the world for the first time,” she said. “When you find yourself pulled toward something, listen to that feeling and go for it.”
She spent seven years working her way up at KTLA, a local news station in Los Angeles, where she paid her dues covering weather stories and slogging through other day-to- day TV news staples before moving up to cover national politics.
“I covered everything from fires and muggings to marches and countless storms,” Tur recalled, cautioning grads that “work won’t always be fun —life is not a bouncy castle.”
But doing what is unpleasant creates a different level of satisfaction, she said.
“You only have to cover one failing school, one corrupt politician or one deadly shooting to know that the work does matter,” Tur said. “Sometimes what makes a job fun is that it’s kind of awful,” she said, citing the 510 days she spent on the road during the Trump campaign.
“I wrote a book about it. Here’s a short version: The food sucks. The travel sucks. The candidate calls you a liar. The people spit on you. You get death threats,” she said.
Philosophy majors, she said, would understand why that is “fun” if they did their required reading of Voltaire’s Candide. Candide, she said, is a foolish optimist trained by his teacher to see every outcome “even the ones that leave him imprisoned or tortured” as the best of all possible outcomes, because each situation we face constitutes the best of all possible worlds.
“There is one line of the book that has always stuck with me: ‘If we do not find anything pleasant, at least we shall find something new’,” Tur said. “I have been repeating that line to myself ever since I read it.”
Tur ended her address by jokingly urging her new fellow alums from UCSB’s Humanities and Fine Arts to follow her fave band Phish's advice to “take care of your shoes.” And, more seriously, to vote.
“As you graduate, class of 2018, into a world that is most certainly not the best of all possible worlds… I can’t promise you anything pleasant. But at least you will find something new,” Tur said.
And she hit a note of optimism, telling the crowd that in the end “it all works out” for Voltaire’s character Candide. “Let’s hope for the same,” she said.
Katy Tur '05
Humanities & Fine Arts Commencement Address June 17, 2018