News Anchor Gayle King ’76 Recalls Life, Love and Ledo on First Return to Campus
Photos by Stephanie S. Cordle
Looking for encouragement in writing her first commencement speech—and at her alma mater—“CBS Mornings” anchor Gayle King ’76 turned to fellow Terp Larry David ’70 for advice. And when the famously cranky comedian failed to deliver, she tried a more reliable source for inspiration: Testudo.
King rubbed his nose yesterday during a tour of old College Park haunts and the University of Maryland campus before delivering the 2023 Commencement address to an audience of thousands at SECU Stadium.
She hadn’t been on campus since the day before her own graduation—which she skipped to catch a flight to the Bahamas—and the memories came flooding back, but maybe not the raucous ones you’d expect of a college student.
In her speech and during a tour with local media, King oscillated between graciousness and charm in meeting students and employees and self-effacing and joyful nostalgia.
“I never in a million years would've thought that I would be in a position to give a graduation speech to any damn body, much less my own alma mater. But here we are.” she told fellow reporters. “And if you're going to do one, shouldn't it be at the place where you got your degree?”
Here are a few takeaways from King’s musings about her campus days and her long-awaited taste of some sweet Ledo pizza:
On attending her first commencement: “For reasons that make absolutely no sense to me now,” King said, she and her sister missed their commencement to catch an early-morning flight out of town the next day. And she had turned down “many, many” other requests during her career to give a commencement speech elsewhere: “It hits different when you’re wearing this robe,” she told the crowd after processing in with the graduates. “I felt so proud of all of us.”
On being an RA: King was a resident assistant in Hagerstown Hall for two years, and, “I’ve always been a square,” said King, outlining the shape with her fingers as she talked. During the high times of the 1970s, she occasionally had to bust students for illicit substances. “They’d go, ‘Gayle, you don’t smoke weed, how do you know we’re smoking weed?’ Because I know the smell of weed,” King said.
On getting your heart broken: King recalled being a community assistant at La Plata Hall, where future NBA star turned sportscaster Len Elmore ’74 would sign in to visit his girlfriend on the eighth floor. “I had the biggest crush on him.” But he wasn’t her only unrequited love, telling graduates: “You've made it through a bazillion exams, disappointments in life, and yes, in love. I had that too at the University of Maryland, but I'm not bitter ... his name was Wayne.”
On Ledo Pizza: King is a famous fan of the College Park-born institution, with its rectangular pies and provolone cheese topping. She even introduced it to her BFF during a tour of the country’s best pizza restaurants on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” Yesterday, she swung by to try Mike’s Hot Honey pepperoni pizza, announcing that she had five pieces.
On building resilience: King was in her La Plata Hall room as a freshman, when she got a call on the hall phone from a neighbor telling her to come home, because her father had died. Sitting in traffic on Baltimore Avenue, she turned and saw a car, top down, full of classmates enjoying the sunshine and blasting their music. She thought then, “Why hadn’t their world stopped too?” Looking back, she said, “The only thing to do is to take one step forward, just one.”
On giving this speech: At a recent dinner party, she told the “Seinfeld” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” creator that she was giving the commencement address, and he responded flatly, “Why?” She said in return, “Why not?” And he said, “Cause it’s hard!” King told the graduates, “My first piece of advice to you: Do not go to Larry David for a pep talk.”
On the promise of UMD students: King paused a few times on McKeldin Mall, notebook in hand, to talk to passing students, faculty and staff. Tawana Twitty, a program management specialist at the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources who has worked at UMD for 30 years, told King she isn’t retiring yet, because she enjoys working with students; they give her hope. King said she loved that, and also noted the signs wrapped around Purple Line construction: “Future home of something fearless.” King said, “I love the sound of that. That’s us.”
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