Lipscomb University’s Imagine 2018 featuring distinguished journalist and bestselling author Tom Brokaw began a yearly initiative with one of the nation’s most notable journalistic personalities.
Prior to the evening’s main event, Brokaw sat down with over 100 Lipscomb students to answer questions and converse with student body leaders about his experiences. Before the student session, Brokaw shared a few words of wisdom for the next generation. “Get involved in public policy,” he said. “Learn how to communicate with each other. Don’t just divide yourselves up. Find ways to unite.”
Later, more than 1,400 Lipscomb Associates gathered in Allen Arena to hear Brokaw share his story to include his experience at the opening of the Berlin Wall, his historic interview with Mikhail Gorbachev, and his live coverage of the day that changed the trajectory of American society, 9/11.
“I must say, this is my first visit to the campus, and coming to a great school like this and seeing all of you and your commitment to the values of this school is a reminder to me, again, of the greatness of this country,” said Brokaw.
“Frankly, as a citizen and as a journalist, I love having the opportunity to explore America and see all of the great work that is being done. We can never forget that’s the essence of who we are, whatever we believe. Whatever we believe politically, whatever we believe spiritually, that in the final analysis, we find a way to move forward together. So, I congratulate all of you on your great commitment to this great institution and I’m very privileged to be here,” he said.
Brokaw’s career spans a time of perhaps the greatest change in journalism. His career began long before the existence of the internet and in the time when color television was a new luxury. Brokaw culminated his career as the anchor to NBC Nightly News, well into today’s standard 24 hour news cycle, social media reporting and digital, rather than print, publications.
Brokaw told of a time he received a tip about a webstory the Wall Street Journal published, then retracted, regarding President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. Brokaw reported on the article on the nightly news later discovering the article was removed because it was wrong. He highlighted his personal policy with audiences to get it right, and take responsibility when he and his team got it wrong.
“Get it right. Don’t get it wrong. If you have to take another 30 seconds, take another 30 seconds. The world doesn’t need to know that story right then. It was better for us to track it down,” he said of the erroneous report. However, Brokaw understands with the advent of new technology, times have changed.
“Now, frankly, the news cycle runs completely faster than a journalist, for an individual journalist, to keep up with it,” said Brokaw. “It’s a big, big dilemma, because what we have at the end of the day is your trust or not.”
“We have our integrity, or not. If you can’t count on us, if you can’t rely on us, then we’ve lost our place. We have to have the courage to make sure we get it right and then stand up for it and, when we’re wrong, we were wrong. So, it’s going to be a tough time,” he said.
In the spring of 1984, Brokaw traveled across Europe in preparation for a documentary on the fortieth anniversary of D-Day. His preparation provided significant interaction with American veterans who returned to the battlefields for the anniversary. The conversations with the nation’s heroes resonated deeply with Brokaw and inspired him to write “The Greatest Generation.” The bestseller shares the untold stories of men and women who came of age during the Great Depression and World War II on their way to building modern America through their service, sacrifice and courage.
“It was published in 1998, and I still hear about it four or five times a week. My high school baseball coach was a tail gunner on a B17 I think. His family called me and said, ‘He died in his barcalounger with your book open on his lap because he read from it every night.’ It was hard to deal with that,” said Brokaw.
While conducting his research on D-Day Brokaw crossed paths with the late Sam Gibbons, a World War II hero who served for 44 years as a legislator, elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1962. Gibbons told Brokaw about the Army issued item fundamental to covert communication among Soldiers during the war.
“I still carry one all the time,” said Brokaw pulling a small shiny object from his pocket. “It was a clicker. In the dark of night, the lieutenant or captain would go, ‘*Click,*’ and hope somebody would go, ‘*Click click,*’ ‘I hear you, I’m coming,’” Brokaw explained.
Brokaw reminded the audience of the trying year of 1968, filled with tragedies to include the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, the stepping down of President Lyndon Johnson, riots across the country and the ongoing Vietnam War. “People say to me, ‘We’ve never been through anything like this before.’ I say no, 1968 was worse,” he declared.
He went on to describe the launch of Apollo 8 and its trip around the back side of the moon on Christmas Eve, 1968. Astronaut Jim Lovell famously covered the earth with his thumb, thinking about the importance of mankind preserving our spaceship, Earth.
He explained how NASA enlisted Joe Layton, later famous for his career as a government public information officer, to help the astronauts prepare comments for the moment when they emerged from the back side of the moon. The astronauts divided up the comments, each reading a portion.
Brokaw turned his gaze away from the audience and, with a Bible in hand, began to read what Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders read:
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light 'day,' and the darkness he called 'night.' And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.”
Brokaw closed the Bible and said, “God was right and we are so privileged to be living on this precious, precious planet.” Allen Arena erupted in applause at what seemed the culmination of the exclusive conversation, but Brokaw had more to say.
He asked for a final moment with the audience, and pulled out the clicker he displayed earlier. “This totem, ‘*Click,*’ is what we need psychologically in our country today,” he began.
“I carry it around because I remind people of what it was like to be imperiled in the darkness, fighting for the survival, frankly, of civilization. When a commander of an 82nd Airborne squad went, ‘*Click,*’ he hoped he would hear, ‘*Click click.’” When he heard that, it wasn’t someone saying, ‘Are you from the tea party? I only work with people from the tea party,’” he joked.
“They didn’t say, ‘Are you a democrat? Because I’m a democrat and I can’t work with anybody but democrats. I’m a republican. I’m a catholic. I’m jewish.’ They didn’t say that. ‘*Click click.*’ ‘I hear you. I’m coming.’ Let’s win this war together,” Brokaw concluded.
The Imagine initiative began in 2016 to engage the Nashville community in topics of local and global importance through perspectives of significant leaders. The first inaugural Imagine event featured President George W. Bush in February 2016, followed by Magic and Cookie Johnson in 2017, leading the discussion, “‘Nashville’ Prosperity for All Corners of the City.’” Last year’s discussion resulted in the Lipscomb community examining the ideas of faith, redemption, entrepreneurship and community transformation.
Imagine guests enjoyed a performance by renown gospel vocal group the Gaither Vocal Band before inspiring words from bestselling author Donald Miller on the importance of asking ourselves, ‘What if,’ as we live and write our own stories of transformation and meaning.
Transformation is in the future for Lipscomb with April 17, 2018 marking university history for the second consecutive year. Two anonymous donors gave Lipscomb University a donation of $23 million, with portions set for the College of Business and an additional 300 parking spots on campus.
Imagine is followed by a series of discussions and working groups throughout the subsequent year to bring community leaders together to focus on critical issues and develop solutions to impact communities in Nashville. The work culminates with a published report of recommendations produced by Imagine participants.
Imagine is an invitation only event for Lipscomb Associates, donors of $1,000 or more annually. To become an associate visit www.lipscomb.edu/giving/assocates or contact Debbie Haislip at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615.966.6220.