CBS's Bob Schieffer replacing Helen Thomas as Whitman High graduation speaker

By Jenna Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Walt Whitman High School has chosen veteran CBS journalist Bob Schieffer to replace Helen Thomas as its commencement speaker next week after the longtime White House correspondent-columnist bowed out of the engagement amid controversy over inflammatory comments she made about Israel and Palestine.

Alan Goodwin, principal of the Bethesda school, described Schieffer on Tuesday as a "journalist of prominent stature in the community" and said he planned to inform parents of the choice through an e-mail.

Thomas, 89, announced her retirement Monday from a columnist position with Hearst Newspapers following a storm of criticism over her assertion that Israeli Jews should "get the hell out of Palestine" and "go home" to Germany, Poland and the United States. The remarks were recorded by a rabbi on video.

Thomas had agreed Sunday not to speak at the June 14 graduation at Constitution Hall. She also apologized for the remarks.

Goodwin said he received a flood of offers from people willing to speak or help him find a replacement speaker.

The flap put a spotlight on how commencement speakers are chosen.

At Whitman, senior class officers traditionally reach out to parents for help finding a speaker. Many of these attempts don't work because of scheduling conflicts, Goodwin said, and there is no formal vetting process. In the end, the principal essentially makes the call in consultation with the school community.

This year, a Whitman parent who knows Thomas stepped forward and helped the school book the columnist.

"Because of her 60-year prominence as a journalist, the students went for it and moved on to other senior events," Goodwin said.

Speakers at other Montgomery County graduations this spring include County Executive Isiah Leggett, sportscaster Frank Herzog, Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) and newscaster Leon Harris.

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