Luck, Wolf Blitzer’s father always said, is being in the right place, at the right time — and doing something about it.

He learned that firsthand when he started covering the Pentagon for CNN. What was supposed to be a quiet beat erupted with the start of the First Gulf War, propelling Blitzer, who now anchors “The Situation Room” on CNN, to fame.

Blitzer said it wasn’t luck that got him there, it was taking his father’s advice and hard work.

“If you want luck, be at the right place at the right time, take advantage and do the right thing and work your [pause] off,” Blitzer said.

Blitzer shared his advice to graduates Thursday as Utah Valley University’s commencement speaker.

More than 6,000 students were honored Thursday at UVU’s commencement ceremonies. As the largest graduating class of UVU, students had earned more than 1,000 certificates and degrees than the previous year.

Blitzer shared his family’s story, which included how his parents survived the Holocaust and immigrated to Buffalo, New York. He said his parents were fiercely patriotic, always flew an American flag outside their home, received support from their community and went on to create a construction business.

He drew attention to World Press Freedom Day, which was Thursday, and said that journalists worldwide are threatened, attacked and killed in their pursuit to inform the world.

“A lot of people, including some powerful people, clearly don’t like us every much,” Blitzer said.

He said journalists work to report news fairly and accurately and hold elected officials accountable.

“And I can assure all of you we are not the enemy of the American people,” Blitzer said.

He advised students to take advantage of their passions in order to be successful.

In his final commencement address, UVU President Matthew Holland was joined on the stage by his wife Paige Holland.

Holland’s address drew attention to UVU’s oldest graduate this year, who received a degree at the age of 77.

His remarks leaned on the story of the Wright brothers and the challenges they faced while pursuing the birth of aviation. Wilbur and Orville Wright continued on their mission despite setbacks and those who didn’t think flight wasn’t possible.

In the December of 1903, the brothers tried to launch their airplane Kitty Hawk into flight despite poor weather, an experience that led Wilbur Orville to write the phrase “no bird soars in a calm” in his journal.

“Were conditions less than optimal that morning of December 17th, 1903?” Holland said. “Of course they were, they were nearly always less than optimal the entire four years of the project. But no one was waiting for calm that day, it was time to fly.”

Holland told the graduates that great things can be done by people with humble beginnings and talents.

“Over and over again, history proves that it is those who work long and late, those who keep studying and learning throughout life, those who at times have to lean heavily on family and friends, those who don’t wait for the calm, those who have faith, whether it be in God, or an idea, or a just cause — those are the people who ‘make all the difference’ in the world,” Holland said.

Looking out over the graduates as he nears the end of his time as UVU president, he said he sees extraordinary futures for the students.

“I see you taking on those headwinds and using them to soar to new heights greater than most of you have even imagined,” Holland said.

He said it was a graduation for him, as well, and that the students’ success has been the focus of his life over the past nine years, which has been the presidency the best job he could have.

Convocations, when students’ names are called and they walk across a stage, will take place Friday.

Braley Dodson covers health and education for the Daily Herald.

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