CBS News award-winning journalist and University of New Orleans alumna Michelle Miller recalled the painful experience of being fired from her second job in broadcasting. She made a mistake in a news story that could have cost her a career—if she had let that one moment define her.
“Rethink your career,” Miller recalled the former boss telling her. “You don’t have what it takes.”
A colleague at that same South Carolina station gave a different perspective that Miller embraced.
“A setback is nothing but a set up for a comeback,” Miller said to applause at UNO’s Lakefront Arena on Saturday where she delivered the keynote address during the undergraduate spring commencement ceremony.
Miller, who previously worked at WWL-TV, the local CBS affiliate in New Orleans, is a co-host of “CBS Saturday Morning.”
Miller's reporting has earned her several prestigious journalism awards including an Emmy for her series of reports on the National Guard's Youth Challenge Academy, an Edward R. Murrow Award for her coverage of a day care center stand-off in New Orleans, and she was part of the Alfred I. duPont – Columbia Award winning team for coverage of the Newtown, Conn., school shooting. In 2019, Miller won a Gracie award for her reporting on the hidden world of sex trafficking in “‘48 Hours’: Live to Tell: Trafficked.”
That former boss later apologized to her for attempting to dash her hopes, Miller said.
“People can drive you to do great things. They can drive you with their encouragement; they can drive you with their doubt,” Miller said. “It’s all in how you look at it. That’s the perspective lens.
“So don’t ever let your naysayers win.”
The University held two commencement ceremonies in the Lakefront Arena on Saturday. A graduate student ceremony was held at 10 a.m., followed by the undergraduate student ceremony at 2:30 p.m.
During the graduate commencement, President John Nicklow awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters to New Orleans attorney and former University of Louisiana System Board of Supervisors chair James Carter in recognition of his service to the community.
“Mr. Carter’s professional accomplishments, his commitment to his community and his dedication to higher education, including the University of Louisiana System and the University of New Orleans, warrant the granting of a Doctor of Humane Letters,” Nicklow said.
The 2022 graduating class hailed from 27 U.S. states and territories and 30 countries.
Biyon Freeman of Houston, Texas was among the nearly 900 students participating in Saturday’s ceremonies.
Freeman, who earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing, returned to New Orleans from Texas on Friday to take part in the ceremony.
“I had to participate in this. It’s big to me,” said Freeman, who decorated her mortarboard with butterflies and the words “The best things come to those who don’t give up.”
The stole draped around her shoulders carried a similar message: It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
Freeman said the messages were in recognition of the obstacles she pushed through to earn a degree: She had attended three different schools, failed tests and faced the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It seemed like I was never going to be done,” Freeman said. “But I never gave up no matter what I went through. The best things come to those who don’t give up. That’s been my motivation.”
Education major Madison Prochnow was in pre-celebration mode. She wore a pink and gray glittering stole with matching sandals and an even larger smile.
“Today means a celebration with family and friends after a lot of hard work and obstacles,” Prochnow said, emphasizing “lot”. “I’ve had a few setbacks and it’s a great thing to be able to finally be done and celebrate and get my career started in teaching. I’m definitely going to be celebrating later!”
While graduates waited for the official start of the ceremony, they took selfies, group shots, and offered hugs and well-wishes to fellow graduates.
They also took time to reminiscence about their journey to earning a UNO degree.
“I’ve been involved in so many different projects, from archeological excavations in Germany, to Austria to working on the street renaming to working with the Plessy Ferguson Foundation,” said Emily Hanish, who earned a master’s degree in history. “I’ve grown so much and I’ve learned so much about myself and about this city and what it means to be a good citizen. If anyone needs to grow up, this is the place to do it!”
Hoang Dat Nguyen, who earned a computer science degree, said the path was difficult, but worth it.
“I’ve worked hard, but now I have some results,” said Nguyen, who has plans to pursue a master’s degree at UNO. “This was my first step.”
For DeShawn Jones, who earned a master’s degree in business, the ceremony was a “dream come true.”
“I’ve always wanted to have my hood on, always wanted to have a master’s degree,” said Jones, who teaches in the nonprofit sector. “Two-point-5 years later, here we are!”
Miller’s commencement address reflected the persistence, hopes and optimism that many graduates expressed as they waited to march across the stage.
Her story about fulfilling her journalism dreams despite her “setback,” was just one of the many nuggets of wisdom Miller shared with the spring 2022 graduating class at UNO. She also encouraged them to work hard and dream big.
“Don’t be afraid to fail,” Miller said. “Success is not a straight line.”
Miller congratulated the class for the impact their generation is having on the shaping of policies and perceptions.
“I see your promise. I see your commitment. I see your pure unfettered, unentitled zest to live and live better than those who came before you could ever imagine,” Miller said. “You are young people who have shaped the American agenda.”
Miller urged them to continue being persistent at pursuing and demanding change, noting how the younger generation voted in record numbers in 2020 and are at the forefront of protest movements.
“You have been a mosaic of people from all backgrounds, who stood up against systems and policies that allowed a lot of people to die while sleeping, driving or being pinned in handcuffs on a sidewalk,” Miller said. “Your generation has asserted itself. Your generation must continue to participate in this experiment we call America.”