Susan Zirinsky, president of CBS News, to deliver Commencement address

Publication Date

Susan Zirinsky, the new president and senior executive producer of CBS News, will be the featured speaker at Union's 225th Commencement, College officials announced today.

More than 500 students in the Class of 2019 will receive degrees during the ceremony, scheduled for 10 a.m. Sunday, June 16, on Hull Plaza. Zirinsky will receive an honorary doctorate of letters degree.

Zirinsky joined CBS News in 1972 and has held numerous positions during her tenure. She became president and senior executive producer on March 1. She is the first woman to lead the venerable news organization.


When CBS announced Zirinsky’s appointment in January, a New York Times profile of her began, “Susan Zirinsky is a legend in the world of television news.”

“At a time when the role of the press is both changing and being questioned, we are honored to welcome a highly respected journalist like Susan Zirinsky to our campus,” said President David R. Harris. “She has been witness to many historic stories during more than four decades in the news business, and we look forward to her sharing her insights with the graduating class and their families.”

Before taking on her new role as president, Zirinsky was the senior executive producer of the award-winning “48 Hours,” “48 Hours: NCIS” and “Whistleblower.”

The College will also award an honorary doctorate of letters degree to Deborah Margolin, a playwright, actor and founding member of Split Britches Theater Company.

Margolin is Professor of the Practice in Yale University’s undergraduate Theater Studies Program.

The co-valedictorians are Allegra Dawes, Thomas Gagliardi and Samantha Miller.

The co-salutatorians are Lisa Gu and Marc Perlman.

The student speaker is Christie Dionisos.

While a student at American University, Zirinsky began her career in the CBS News Washington bureau as a part-time desk assistant. It was two weeks after the Watergate break-in. Surrounded by the illustrious reporting team led by Walter Cronkite that dominated television coverage of Watergate, Zirinsky had a front-row seat to history.

One night in October 1973, she found herself at the center of a big story when, alone in the newsroom, word got out that President Richard Nixon had fired his attorney general, the so-called “Saturday Night Massacre.” She helped mobilize the Washington bureau, starting with alerting all CBS News management and a key reporter on the story. Dan Rather had anchored that night’s broadcast in New York and was on the shuttle to Washington when Zirinsky got the call. She had a courier with a motorcycle meet Rather when he arrived. Rather was shocked by the courier, who handed him a helmet and told to hop on so they could quickly get to the studio. Thanks to Zirinsky’s ingenuity, CBS News was able to broadcast a series of special reports that night.

Over the next four decades, Zirinsky produced a wide variety of award-winning documentaries and programs, including the critically acclaimed “9/11,” considered by many to be the historical record of the terrorists attacks on the World Trade Center. She was responsible for numerous CBS News breaking news specials, including coverage of the Tiananmen Square student uprising in 1989, the mass shooting in an Aurora, Colo. theater and the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting, both in 2012; the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013; the terrorist attacks in Paris in 2015; the inauguration of President Donald Trump in 2017; and the royal wedding in 2018.

Zirinsky co-produced the March 2018 documentary “39 Days,” which followed the group of students who banded together after the Parkland, Fla., mass shooting.

She also produced specials following the deaths of Mary Tyler Moore in 2017, Muhammad Ali in 2016 and Nelson Mandela in 2013, among others.

While covering the Democratic National Convention in 1984, Zirinsky was interviewed about her job by Academy Award-winning producer James L. Brooks. That led to her role as the technical adviser/associate producer for Brooks' film “Broadcast News,” starring Holly Hunter as a Washington network news producer.

Her work has been recognized with some of journalism's top honors, including the Emmy Award, the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award and the George Foster Peabody Award. In 2013, Zirinsky was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the International Television & Film Awards.

Zirinsky graduated cum laude from American University in Washington, D.C. The AU School of Communication honored her with its Dean's Award in 2018.

Margolin is the author of 10 full-length solo performance pieces, which she has toured throughout the U.S, and is the recipient of an OBIE Award for Sustained Excellence of Performance.

Margolin is also the author of numerous full-length, multi-character plays, including “Imagining Madoff,” which had its New York premiere at 59e59 Theaters in New York City in March and will reopen in extension at the Lion Theater, New York City in October. The show was nominated in 2012 for the Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding New Play in Washington, D.C. and for the Eliot Norton Award for Outstanding Production for its New England debut at New Repertory Theater Company in Boston.

Margolin was awarded the Richard H. Brodhead Prize for Teaching Excellence at Yale and the Kesselring Playwriting Prize for her play, “Three Seconds in the Key.” In 2008 she was honored with the Helen Merrill Distinguished Playwright Award

Dan Venning, assistant professor of theater and dance, nominated Margolin.

For more on Commencement, including a list of previous speakers, visit here.