Monday, August 19, 2019
Bill Marimow ’69 to Deliver Commencement Address

Bill Marimow ’69 to Deliver Commencement Address

PETE PRENDERGAST ’16

EDITOR IN CHIEF

In 1978, two reporters from the Philadelphia Inquirer accepted the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. Their stories detailing abuses of power by the police force in their city had just busted open a pattern of institutional corruption, and would lead to the indictment of 15 homicide detectives. They also caused the D.A. to found a special unit tasked with investigating police misconduct that had been allowed to flourish under the leadership of Mayor and former Police Commissioner Frank L. Rizzo. Their reports sparked one of the most significant campaigns against police misconduct in American history, a battle still being waged today.

Just nine years earlier, one of these young reporters stood in a position familiar to many of us: awaiting the uncertainty of graduation and life after college.  This is Bill Marimow, award winning journalist, educator, proud alumnus of Trinity College, and commencement speaker for the class of 2016.

Born in Philadelphia, Marimow grew up in Havertown, PA, which he describes as a typical suburban town.  “It was the kind of place where, after World War II, people from the city who wanted a small yard and a basketball hoop moved their families to,” he told me.  A member of both the wrestling and lacrosse teams, Marimow graduated from Haverford High School in 1965.  Unsure about where to attend college, he applied to Trinity from the advice of a neighbor, was accepted and awarded a scholarship.

A brother of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, Marimow admits, that like many of us, it took him a while to embrace the academic component of college.  “At Trinity, I was 18, and probably, to be honest, too immature to cope with all the freedom,” he said of his first few semesters.  After what he remembers as a “three semester tailspin,” Marimow found his niche in the English Department, where he remembers his professors as “terrific educators, and tough taskmasters.”  He recalls four professors in particular, Kenneth Cameron, Hugh Ogden, John Dando, and Andrew Turnbull, as having a lasting impact on his education.

Over the phone from his office at the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he currently serves as Editor-in-Chief, Marimow told me of an evening his junior year when professor Dando invited a handful of students to his house to watch the film Tom Jones.  “He showed us the film and gave us unlimited amounts of Michelob beer to drink which was a lot of fun,” he warmly remembered.  “Keep in mind, this was 1968.”

Still undecided about post-Trinity plans, Marimow and his girlfriend spent three months after graduation hitchhiking across Europe, culminating in his return to Philadelphia in search of a job.  As recent graduates often do-although the practice has evolved in the internet age-Marimow consulted the yellow pages, looked under publishing starting with the letter “A,” and began calling every publisher in the area.  Eventually, his cold-call approach paid off and Marimow landed a job as the assistant news editor for Jewelers Circular-Keystone Magazine.

After a few months, Marimow left the magazine for a job at the Philadelphia Bulletin, working as an assistant for Pulitzer Prize winning economics columnist J.A. Livingston.  “I sat outside his office, and because of my english experience at Trinity, I was able to help him [edit] the columns. Eventually he gave me bylines and let me do a first draft of columns,” he said.  “It was really a great baptism under fire.”

In 1972, the Philadelphia Inquirer hired Livingston, and Marimow followed, working one day a week as his assistant, and four days a week as a beat reporter.  Five years later, Marimow and his partner Jonathan Neumann began investigating cases of police brutality, earning them their Pulitzer. More importantly, however, their articles sparked institutional change with the potential to preserve the rights and lives of countless.

Marimow went on to win another Pulitzer Prize in 1985 for exposing the dangerous operations of the Philadelphia police K-9 unit.  Similar to the 1978 expose, these stories led Mayor Wilson Goode to implement the first set of rules on when police dogs can attack humans as well as the city paying thousands of dollars in civil settlements to the people he wrote about.

Bill Marimow has no doubt led a distinguished professional life.  He has served as the editor of two major newspapers, as well as the head of news for National Public Radio, and he has taught courses in journalism at the University of Pennsylvania, Rutgers University and the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at the Arizona State University.  However, through all his success, Marimow remains loyal to Trinity, and makes every effort to give back to the school that gave him so much.  He served on the Board of Fellows as well as the Board of Trustees.  He was a part of the search committee that eventually hired President Joanne Berger-Sweeney, and as I have come to know first-hand, is willing to pick up the phone for any Trinity student seeking guidance.

“From the time that I got out of [Trinity], I felt absolutely indebted for the education that I got,” he said. “Without that scholarship, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today.”

I asked Marimow to explain what makes Trinity so special outside of the education it offers.  He confidently responded, “the intimacy. If you choose to take advantage of all the potential relationships with fellow students and faculty, it can enrich your life forever.”  He went on to explain that the friends he made at Trinity are still some of his closest.  One of his old classmates, Jimmy Jones (no relation) is flying to Hartford from Laguna Beach just to hear an old friend speak at commencement.  “The idea that Jimmy would get on a plane and fly across the country for my speech is mind-boggling,” he said. “It’s [lasting friendships] one of the many ties that bind me to the college.”

In our conversation, the topic of Marimow’s commencement speech came up.  We discussed that he has the daunting task of delivering one message, one profound piece of advice to a new crop of young adults.  And while he hinted to me a bit of what he intends to talk about, I know the class of 2016 would be better served hearing it from the man himself.  Bill Marimow, the accomplished, daring, inspiring graduate of Trinity College promised me one thing however: his speech would be exactly twelve minutes long.  Yet, from just the few conversations I had with him, I can promise that it will be profound.

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