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Helen Thomas, 'the First Lady of the Press,' to be Commencement Speaker

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4/1/2009 —

Helen Thomas, legendary journalist and best-selling author, will be the featured speaker at Penn State Lehigh Valley's Commencement ceremony to be held at 11 a.m., Saturday, May 16, 2009 at the West Garden of the campus in Fogelsville.

A pioneer in women's journalism, Helen Thomas has used her pointed reporting style to get answers from America's top political leaders for more than 60 years. The year after she graduated from Wayne State University, Thomas served as a copy girl on the now defunct Washington Daily News, and joined United Press International (UPI) in 1943. For 12 years she wrote radio news for UPI, and then had several beats around the federal government including the Department of Justice, FBI, Department of Health, Education and Welfare, and Capitol Hill before she began covering President-elect John F. Kennedy in 1960. Thomas went to the White House in January 1961 as a member of the UPI team and was there until May 2000. In July 2000, Thomas became a columnist for the Hearst News Service. Thomas returned to the White House press room in November 2008 and continues to ask her tough questions of President Barack Obama and his press secretary on a daily basis.

During the years she covered Kennedy, Thomas was the first woman to close a presidential news conference with the traditional "Thank you, Mr. President."

Thomas served as President of the Women's National Press Club in 1959-60, and was the first woman officer of the National Press Club after it opened its doors to women members for the first time in 90 years. In addition, Thomas became the first woman officer of the White House Correspondents Association in its 50 years of existence, and served as its first woman president in 1975-76. Thomas also became the first woman member of the Gridiron Club in its history, and the first woman to be elected president in 1993.

In 1968, Thomas was named the "Newspaper Woman of Washington" by the American Newspaper Woman's Club, and in 1975, she was named the "Woman of the Year" in communications by Ladies' Home Journal. She has also received the Matrix Award from the Women in Communications, and the World Almanac named Helen Thomas as one of the twenty-five most influential women in America.

Helen Thomas traveled around the world several times with Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton, and covered every economic summit. In February, 1972, she was the only newspaperwoman to travel with President Nixon to China during his breakthrough trip. Since then, she has been to China on many subsequent presidential visits.

She is the author of numerous books including her latest, Listen Up, Mr. President (2009). In addition, she wrote Watchdogs of Democracy? (Scribner 2007), Thanks for the Memories, Mr. President (Scribner 2003), Front Row at the White House (Scribner 2000), and a children's book, The Great White House Breakout (Dial 2008), co-written by Pulitzer-nominated political cartoonist Chip Bok.

For more information, please contact University Relations at (610) 285-5067.

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