Brokaw: ‘Uncle Sam needs us’

It's only the beginning of the 21st century, but Tom Brokaw is already thinking about how the beginning of it will be looked upon by historians.

The University of South Dakota graduate, Yankton native and retired anchor of the "NBC Nightly News" spoke at USD's Muenster University Center Wednesday, Sept. 29. In a speech titled "Uncle Sam Needs Us," Brokaw advised the members of the audience on what they can do to make this country better – not just for the future, but also for the now.

"One hundred years from now, historians will look back at the beginning of the century as a challenging time politically, but not because of our politicians," he said. "Instead, it will be a measure of each of us. We are all in the docket."

Despite the tough times in America financially and even politically, Brokaw said we shouldn't give up on our country, and this is a time to help make it better and restore the country to a high level of prominence.

"The question we have now is, are we up to the task as citizens of this great nation to keep it going in the long trajectory, like our forefathers in the 1800s?" he said. "We need to work to restore the prominence of our education, which has slipped behind others in the world, to find a way out of the economic crisis. Are we up to it? This task will be up to the best of us."

This is a philosophy he inherited from his mentor, Dr. William "Doc" Farber, who passed away in 2007.

"Bill (Farber) never gave up on the idea that we shouldn't give up on patriotism, and we shouldn't give up on our country. We should make it better," Brokaw said.

Farber had a major impact on Brokaw's life and took Brokaw under his wing, even when Brokaw wasn't focused on school or his future.

"I came out of high school as a whiz kid and went off the tracks, but Doc didn't give up on me. He told me to drop out of college and said to focus on wine and women, and when I was done with that, to come back," he said. "After six months, I came crawling back. He filled out my schedule and told me what GPA to get."

Not only did Farber help Brokaw restart his education, the educator also played a role in how Brokaw found his way into television.

"I had lost a job prospect and didn't know what I would do," Brokaw said. "I was talking to Doc and said there may be a job in Omaha. He told me to get in his car and (he) drove me there for the interview, and he got me my first job."

However, Brokaw wasn't the only one who benefited from being under Farber's wing.

"Doc changed a number of lives because of the confidence he showed in students," he said. "He was a great citizen for all of us – a mentor and father figure for a generation of students."

Now Brokaw is asking Americans to be like the generation he grew up with – the one Farber steered him toward – because he no longer sees the same type of cohesion in America.

"Now that I am in my 70th year, I look back on my own life and on my childhood, and I am reminded in how I was raised. I was raised in a community when someone was always there to help, and we all helped to see the accomplishments," Brokaw said. "Now, I see gated communities that have lost the cohesive spirit. We are living in a fractious time."

Farber played such an impact on Brokaw's life that he felt the need to honor his former mentor on national television on NBC's The Today Show last Friday.

"It will be my pleasure to do a tribute to him … ," Brokaw said. "The way I have chosen to do that is to talk about where we are in American life, and where we should be going."

The future isn't bleak because, in Brokaw's opinion, it offers many different directions, which is another thing Farber taught his students.

"As Doc would say, consider the possibilities," said Brokaw, who finished his speech with that line, and a smile as a tribute to his old friend and mentor.

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