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Rooney to deliver Valediction speech

The gruff wit of "60 Minutes" correspondent Andy Rooney will be on display at valedictory exercises this spring.

The Emmy Award-winning CBS newsman has agreed to be the keynote speaker during graduation May 20, University officials announced yesterday.

Rooney was the first choice of the Graduation Committee, said Puja Seam, fourth-year College student and Class of 2000 Trustees Graduation Committee chairwoman.

"We were really surprised how quickly he responded," Seam said. "We're really excited that he's agreed to do this."

Rooney's reputation for wit and wisdom should guarantee a colorful speech, she said.

"Especially with an election year coming up, we wanted someone who was witty and could entertain a crowd," she added.

Rooney was born Jan. 14, 1919 in Albany, N.Y. He attended Colgate University until the Army drafted him in 1941. It was a few years later in 1943 that he had the opportunity to fly in the first American bombing raid on Germany.

His career for the CBS network began in the late '50s, when he was a scriptwriter for CBS. In 1964, he wrote the first of a new genre: the television essay, which has since become his trademark presentation.

Rooney perhaps is best known for his reports on "60 Minutes" -- "A Few Minutes With Andy Rooney" -- which features his brusque, critical and sometimes cynical perspective on contemporary issues.

Before asking Rooney to speak, the Graduation Committee surveyed the fourth-year class in an effort to find out which speakers students wanted to have at graduation.

"Last spring, we put ads in the newspaper and sent e-mail out asking for suggestions," Seam said.

The Committee received over 100 responses. After consolidating the list, Seam's five-person Committee decided to request Rooney as their first choice.

Rooney was an ideal speaker because the Committee wanted someone who was not overly political or too controversial, she said.

With politicians ruled out of the picture, the Committee wanted a speaker who would work on a pro-bono basis, she added.

"U.Va. doesn't pay for any graduation speakers and does not confer honorary degrees," Seam said.

Last year, Sara James, NBC news correspondent and substitute co-anchor for the "Today" show, spoke at valediction. In 1998 actor Christopher Reeve spoke.

"Most of the people we did get [in the requests] were famous celebrities," Seam said.

Inviting celebrities to speak at graduation is a growing trend, she said.

"People want someone they know to talk, entertain and reflect on for the class," she added.

Fourth-year College student Joe Maloney said he is looking forward to Rooney's speech.

"I like '60 Minutes,' but I do wonder what kind of speech he'll give," Maloney said.

The student reaction so far has been positive, said Fourth-year class President Rhodes Ritenour.

"He is world renowned [for seeking] knowledge and for entertaining," Ritenour said. "Anybody who's seen him would agree."

Rooney was not in his New York City office yesterday and could not be reached for comment.