When longtime ABC News anchor Peter Jennings passed away from lung cancer Sunday night, it was a huge loss for the journalistic community. However, at another level, Jennings’ death turned out to a tremendous missed opportunity for my alma mater and employer, Rider University.
While talking Monday morning to my colleagues about Jennings’ passing (he and my boss shared Canadian roots), it was mentioned that Rider bestowed upon Jennings an honorary doctor of laws degree in 1968. That inspired a Google search for the terms “Peter Jennings” and “Rider.”
One of the results was Jennings’ entry on Wikipedia, which contained this passage:
Although a member of the class of ’57, Peter left in 1955 to pursue broadcasting. Jennings also attended Carleton University, University of Ottawa, and Rider College in New Jersey. He never graduated from high school or college, preferring to begin his radio career.
I shared this with my boss that afternoon and she called some people to check on it. Sure enough, iconic ABC news anchor Peter Jennings took classes at Rider and NOBODY EVER MENTIONED IT to the alumni relations, public relations and publications offices. Obviously, if Rider had maintained a relationship with Jennings, it may have been been beneficial to the university from a financial standpoint…it just feels wrong to talk about that part now.
[UPDATE: OK…after talking with somebody who is basically the historian of Rider, it turns out Jennings most likely DID NOT take classes at Rider…but the fact that this degree was bestowed upon Jennings — a high-school dropout — in 1968 makes it very likely the Rider degree was the FIRST Jennings ever received.]
However, there are a number other examples where Rider missed out here. For starters, how great would it have been if Jennings came back to campus to speak to the communication majors (as a Rider journalism grad, I definitely would have enjoyed it)? Also, since I work on Rider’s alumni magazine, it would have been an honor to have had the chance to talk with him, or at least meet him for a feature on Jennings’ brief time as a Rider student (I’m sure my boss would have assigned herself that story…but she wouldn’t have stopped me from tagging along).
But now Jennings is gone and so is the chance for Rider to reconnect with him. Here was this man that so many people turned to for so many years…and Rider somehow turned away. Sure, maybe Jennings wouldn’t have had time for Rider in his life. The shame is that we will never know.