Remembering Jerry Springer’s graduation speech to Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy class of 2020 |

Remembering Jerry Springer’s graduation speech to Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy class of 2020

Jerry Springer appears at a restaurant in Stamford, Conn., on Aug. 7, 2009. Springer died on Thursday at age 79.
Courtesy image/AP

Jerry Springer was known to many as a television legend, but to Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy graduate Henry Strauch, he was simply “Uncle Gerald.”

Springer died peacefully on Thursday after a brief illness, said Jene Galvin, a family spokesperson and friend of Springer’s since 1970, in a statement.

“Jerry’s ability to connect with people was at the heart of his success in everything he tried whether that was politics, broadcasting or just joking with people on the street who wanted a photo or a word,” Galvin said. “He’s irreplaceable and his loss hurts immensely, but memories of his intellect, heart and humor will live on.”

Springer delivered the commencement address to the Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy class of 2020, of which Strauch was a member.

“Many may know him as the king of trash television, but it is easily seen that there is so much more to this kind-hearted intellectual that there just isn’t enough time to truly appreciate him,” Strauch told his classmates.

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Springer said he was honored by the invitation and saddened by the fact that he could not travel to the ceremony in person. His speech, delivered during the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic, touched on themes of new beginnings.

“Graduates throughout the country, in fact graduates throughout the world, who have traditionally been handed an invitation to join the world, today instead are being handed a blank slate,” Springer said. “We’re starting from scratch, and you and your generation will, by necessity, be called upon to create, in a sense, a whole new society.”

Humble beginnings

Gerald Norman Springer was born Feb. 13, 1944, in a London underground railway station being used as a bomb shelter. His parents, Richard and Margot, were German Jews who fled to England during the Holocaust, in which other relatives were killed in Nazi gas chambers. They arrived in the United States when their son was 5 and settled in the Queens borough of New York City, where Springer got his first Yankees baseball gear on his way to becoming a lifelong fan.

He studied political science at Tulane University and got a law degree from Northwestern University. He was active in politics much of his adult life, mulling a run for governor of Ohio as recently as 2017.

He entered the arena as an aide in Robert F. Kennedy’s ill-fated 1968 presidential campaign. Springer, working for a Cincinnati law firm, ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1970 before being elected to city council in 1971.

In 1974 — in what The Cincinnati Enquirer reported as “an abrupt move that shook Cincinnati’s political community” — Springer resigned. He cited “very personal family considerations,” but what he didn’t mention was a vice probe involving prostitution. In a subsequent admission that could have been the basis for one of his future shows, Springer said he had paid prostitutes with personal checks.

Then 30, he had married Micki Velton the previous year. The couple had a daughter, Katie, and divorced in 1994.

Springer quickly bounced back politically, winning a council seat in 1975 and serving as mayor in 1977. He later became a local television politics reporter with popular evening commentaries. He and co-anchor Norma Rashid eventually helped build NBC affiliate WLWT-TV’s broadcast into the Cincinnati market’s top-rated news show.

Springer began his talk show in 1991 with more of a traditional format, but after he left WLWT in 1993, it got a sleazy makeover.

TV Guide ranked it No. 1 on a list of “Worst Shows in the History of Television,” but it was ratings gold. It made Springer a celebrity who would go on to host a liberal radio talk show and “America’s Got Talent,” star in a movie called “Ringmaster,” and compete on “Dancing With the Stars.”

“With all the joking I do with the show, I’m fully aware and thank God every day that my life has taken this incredible turn because of this silly show,” Springer told Cincinnati Enquirer media reporter John Kiesewetter in 2011.

Final thoughts

While Springer’s Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy commencement speech, at times, may have felt like one of his “final thoughts” from his show, much of Springer’s words rung more in tune with his evening commentaries from WLWT-TV.

In Strauch’s introduction, he gave his classmates some insight into Springer’s motivation for joining the WLWT news team.

“He said he would only take (the anchor position) if he could do his own political commentary as well,” Strauch said.

In a position where opinions are often shunned in an effort to keep up an appearance of objectivity, Springer had instead created a space where discussion on public issues was part of the program. During his commencement speech, Springer encouraged Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy seniors to also find a way to get involved in public issues.

Springer called life “a gift we had nothing to do with,” saying Bill Gates would have been dead if he were born in Ethiopia rather than the United States.

“And when we receive such a gift as life, we say thank you,” Springer said. “And the way you say thank you — particularly those of us lucky enough to be living life in this wonderful America, with the means to really enjoy it — the way we say thank you is to give something back to the community. To lend a helping hand to those that didn’t get as lucky a roll of the dice as we did. So I say to you, be determined to give something back. Get involved in public issues. Yes, to take care of yourself, but for God’s sake, let’s take care of each other.”

—The Associated Press contributed to this report

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