Macky Auditorium felt like a comedy club Thursday afternoon as famed sportswriter Rick Reilly, a 1981 graduate, delivered the University of Colorado journalism school's final graduation speech.
"We'll be fine," he told the graduates. "You guys should hang onto those diplomas. They're like collectors' items. It's like 'Donald Trump for President' bumper stickers or polar bears. You'll never see them again."
The School of Journalism and Mass Communication will shut down -- or be "re-jiggered," as Reilly put it -- on June 30.
Those enrolled in the school will be able to finish their degrees, but future students must couple their journalism major with another field of study.
On Thursday, the journalism school awarded 280 degrees.
Sportswriter Rick Reilly cracks jokes at the University of Colorado's graduation ceremony for the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. (Marty Caivano)
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Reilly wrote for the Camera, The Denver Post and Los Angeles Times before joining Sports Illustrated in 1985. He spent 23 years there, and he wrote his column "The Life of Reilly" for a decade.
Now, he is a front-page columnist for ESPN.com and an essayist and occasional anchor for ESPN SportsCenter. He is also the host of "Homecoming," ESPN's one-hour interview show.
He apologized to graduates if they've been handed down his graduation gown because he spilled Schlitz beer on it and then stuffed it in a closet to marinate for a week. As a student, Reilly worked 40 hours a week at the Camera for three years. The first byline he earned was from a women's Buffs basketball game.
A professor back in college told him that he was too good for sportswriting.
"I look at my tax return this year and say, 'Pfft, no I'm not," Reilly said.
In an interview prior to his speech, Reilly said his job on the sports desk at the Camera and his training in CU's journalism school complemented one another.
At the Camera, he said, former sports editor Dan Creedon would chuck aluminum cans at his desk if his stories were just a minute overdue -- teaching him the importance of hitting deadline. And in the journalism school, he said, he learned media law, theory and ethics.
He told graduates that journalism will always be relevant, and the "digital house of cards will fold" without trained professionals to dig up documents, check facts, interview people and write well. Bloggers who hold down couch springs in their mothers' basements and write for a few people, he said, aren't carrying out those duties.
Reilly delivered practical advice, telling new graduates: "Don't write for free. Doctors don't doctor for free. Professors don't profess for free."
He also cautioned them to carefully craft their questions and words. (He purchased a power cord the other day and the cashier told him: "Enjoy." Reilly's response: "Dude, where do you think I'm sticking this power cord?")
Similarly, he said, don't ask dumb interview questions -- like the sportswriter he witnessed asking an injured baseball player: "Where do you stand physically now?" (The athlete responded: "Right here.")
And, Reilly said, he'll pull two hamstrings and break tables trying to come up with creative ways to write sentences.
"Get out there and say things that you've never heard said before," he told the grads.
A couple of examples he provided:
"Brett Favre has finally made up his mind."
"Tiger, I'd like you to meet my sister."
Journalism school Dean Paul Voakes told the new grads that journalism education will stay alive at CU and the university will continue a degree program that will keep graduates competitive.
Graduate Constance Ray, a broadcast news major, is headed to Honduras to serve in the Peace Corps. Kate Spencer will head to Portland, Ore., for an internship that could turn into a job with the PR firm Waggener Edstrom. She'll work on the company's Microsoft account.
And Emily Tarran, a broadcast news major, missed the graduation ceremony because she's already started work as an overnight producer at KKTV11 in Colorado Springs.
CU Regent Sue Sharkey, R-Windsor, packed tissues before she headed over to Macky Auditorium to the graduation ceremony.
Sharkey, who never earned a bachelor's degree herself, encouraged her three children to pursue higher education. Her daughter Jenna Jordan, who majored in broadcast news, is among the journalism school graduates and is applying for jobs at news stations.
Sharkey was among the regents who voted against closing the journalism school.
The regents voted 5-4 earlier this spring to close the traditional school, the first time in the university's history that an entire school has been closed.
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