By Emily Stifler, photo by Kelly Gorham

When Apollo 8, the first space shuttle to enter lunar orbit, came around the back side of the moon, the astronauts saw something “no one had prepared them for,” said former NBC nightly news anchor, Tom Brokaw, in March 2 speech at MSU. “That’s because no one had seen it before. In [a] vast, deep, dark ocean of utter blackness, there was one small orb, beautiful–with a delicate filigree of white clouds, and deep blue of the oceans, the rich green of the rainforest, the rust brown of the arid areas–suspended, like a jewel. It was this precious planet.”

At that moment, Jim Lovell, one of the astronauts, realized, “We’re all in this together, and we’ll survive, or perish, as a race, as humankind, and as a planet.”

In Bozeman, Brokaw spoke to a sold-out crowd after accepting an honorary Doctorate of Letters from Montana State University. MSU president, Waded Cruzado presented the degree, in recognition of Brokaw’s “distinguished career as a journalist of more than four decades who has earned the trust and respect of the American people, for [his] coverage of numerous nationally and internationally significant events, for the many prestigious awards bestowed upon [him], and for the honor and recognition [he brings] to Montana.”

Brokaw, who lives part time on a ranch east of Livingstone, opened the speech with self-depricating humor, and told a humorous story about his late friend, Walter Cronkite, in a Yellowstone gift shop. Then, he told the audience he’d like to have “a national conversation,” something he thought was overdue. He said the internet gives us “an opportunity for dialogue… [as do] “occasions like this, [and] coffee shops and street corners, state legislatures and in the Congress of the United States.

In these challenging days,” he said, “We find an urgent need to listen, as well as to talk. To develop, if you will, a kind of dialogue in America, in which we work out together, where we go. We know where we’ve been. We have a not altogether unanimous idea about where we are. But the real challenge is, where do we go from here, and how do we get there?”

Brokaw discussed our troops and the two longest wars in American history, Iraq and Afghanistan. He talked about energy independence, education, and about China and India. He used stories from the Greatest Generation — a term he coined for the men and women who grew up in the Great Depression and fought in WWII — to ask the American people to re-enlist as citizens.

After the speech, Brokaw spent 15 minutes answering questions from MSU students.

To conclude the evening, Native American Chief Dr. Joe Medicine Crow, 97, hobbled on stage and blessed the occasion with songs from the Crow people and with humor. A scout in 103rd infantry in WWII, the Chief recently received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama.

Listen to Brokaw’s entire speech here, with an introduction from MSU president, Waded Cruzado:

Listen to Chief Medicine Crow here: