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George Vlahakis
IU Media Relations

Last modified: Thursday, April 5, 2007

Tavis Smiley to address IU Bloomington graduates on May 5

April 5, 2007

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University President Adam W. Herbert today (April 5) announced that Tavis Smiley, a popular radio personality, political commentator, motivational speaker, author and Indiana University alumnus, will present the commencement address at IU Bloomington Saturday, May 5.

With his late night television talk show, "Tavis Smiley," and his radio show "The Tavis Smiley Show," Smiley was the first American ever to simultaneously host signature talk shows on both PBS and National Public Radio. His television show continues now in its fourth season, and "The Tavis Smiley Show" on public radio is now distributed by Public Radio International (PRI). He also offers political commentary twice weekly on the nationally-syndicated "Tom Joyner Morning Show."

Smiley was recommended by the IU Bloomington Commencement Speaker Committee which includes students, faculty and staff. Herbert said he concurred with the committee recommendation because he believes Smiley's presence will make the commencement ceremonies an inspirational experience for IU graduates and their families.

"Tavis Smiley is one of our own," Herbert said. "He grew up in Kokomo and came to IU with limited resources but a strong passion for learning. He has subsequently become an internationally renowned talk show host and political commentator. Yet, he has never forsaken his Hoosier values.

"In a society with a significant need for strong role models, Tavis has sought out opportunities to be a mentor, to lift up those who need a helping hand and to share his life experiences through extensive publications and public appearances," Herbert added. "Indiana University is very proud of his many impressive accomplishments. Tavis Smiley's life story is a testament to the power of education, determination and talent. I am very confident that he will inspire our graduates on this special day in their lives."

"He's an inspiration to us all," added Tom Martz, president and chief executive officer of the 495,000-member IU Alumni Association. "We're pleased that he will be here again and appreciate everything that he has done for the university. We know that the students who are graduating this year are going to benefit greatly from his words of wisdom."

Many may know Smiley from his former television talk show, "BET Tonight." He is the author or editor of 11 books, including his latest, What I Know for Sure: My Story of Growing Up in America (Doubleday, 2006) and Keeping the Faith: Stories of Love, Courage, Healing and Hope from Black America (Doubleday, 2002), a collection of narratives about love, loss and faith by African Americans from all walks of life.

Smiley also is the founder of the Tavis Smiley Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to encourage, empower and enlighten black youth. Youth to Leaders, the cornerstone program of the foundation, is an annual series of one-day leadership-building conferences that take place in cities across the United States.

Smiley's story at IU is well-documented. The Kokomo native and oldest of 10 children had applied to IU without his parents' knowledge and paid a friend $10 to drive him from Kokomo to Bloomington. All he had with him when he arrived on campus was $40, a suitcase and an admission letter.

After taking his story to a series of people at IU, he eventually was directed to the late Jimmy Ross, the first director of the IU Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid and the first African American to lead a major administrative, non-academic unit at IU Bloomington.

"I went through a whole bunch of people, and there were a whole lot of people who passed me around," Smiley told IU Alumni magazine in 2004. "It wasn't that they were mean about it. I just wasn't in the system. All I had was this letter that said I'd been accepted. It was a dicey, difficult situation."

Once enrolled and supported through a debate scholarship, Smiley pursued his education with the passion that brought him to IU.

From IU, he went to work as an aide for then Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley. Over the next 16 years, Smiley's career took off as a commentator on television and radio, including on C-SPAN, CNN, ABC's "World News Tonight," and "BET Tonight with Tavis Smiley." He became a successful author, created a foundation to empower black youths and helped several of his family members through college.

He earned a degree from IU in public and environmental affairs and has been presented with a Doctor of Humane Letters degree by IU Kokomo. He has regularly returned to IU Bloomington. In 1998, he returned to be grand marshal of the Homecoming parade, spoke at a diversity conference in 2002, and in 2003 presented the Neal-Marshall SPEA Public Policy Lecture. He also has given presentations at other IU campuses, including IUPUI and IPFW.

Smiley will address both of the commencement sessions at Assembly Hall. The morning session will begin at 10 a.m. and will include graduates from the Kelley School of Business; the School of Education; the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation; the School of Law; the Jacobs School of Music; the School of Nursing; the School of Public and Environmental Affairs; and the School of Social Work. The Ph.D. candidates in the same fields who are receiving degrees from the University Graduate School also will participate in the morning session.

The afternoon session will begin at 3 p.m. It will include graduates from the College of Arts and Sciences; the School of Continuing Studies; the School of Informatics; the School of Journalism; the Division of Labor Studies; the School of Library and Information Science; and the School of Optometry. Ph.D. degree candidates in those fields who are receiving degrees from the University Graduate School and all master's degree candidates receiving degrees through the University Graduate School will participate in the afternoon session.

For more information on the commencement ceremonies, visit