During his speech, Zaslav advised students that “some people will be looking for a fight, but don’t be the one they find it with,” which caused an eruption of boos and cheers from the crowd. He then told students to “focus on people’s good qualities,” which was a tip he said he received from the late General Electric CEO Jack Welch.
As he wrapped up his address — advising students to “figure out what you’re good at” and “show up for your friends” — audience members shouted expletives at him.
Zaslav, who wore sunglasses during the duration of speech, did not directly address the strike. But he may have been speaking to the picketers and protesters when he wrapped up, saying, “I hope to see all of you — and I mean all of you — along the way. The journey of life. There’s nothing better.”
Boston University declined to comment.
The Writers Guild of America, which first announced its strike on May 2, said it would picket the BU ceremony after the university confirmed the WBD chief executive would be giving a commencement speech.
Movie and TV screenwriters began striking after talks with producers broke down. The WGA is seeking better pay and new contracts amid the streaming era of content, as well as protection against AI-generated content. The work stoppage has already impacted the entertainment industry with television and film productions going dark.
“Writers Guild members are on strike because companies, including Warner Bros. Discovery, refused to guarantee any level of weekly employment in episodic television, attempted to pivot late night writers to a day rate, stonewalled on free work on script revisions for screenwriters, and refused to even discuss our proposal on the existential threat AI poses to all writers,” the guild said in a statement, per the Hollywood Reporter.
The WGA did not immediately respond to request for comment.
Zaslav has commented on the writers’ strike in the past. He told CNBC in early May that great writers are needed for good storytelling and that everybody, including writers, “deserves to be paid fairly.”
“Let’s try and get this resolved,” he told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on May 5. “Let’s do it in a way that the writers feel that they’re valued, which they are, and they’re compensated fairly. And then off we go. Let’s tell great stories together.”
Zaslav thinks it’ll take more than just time to get the writers and producers to meet together on a deal.
“We all came into this business because we love storytelling, we want to entertain and when we’re at our best, we get a chance to have an impact on the culture,” he said. “Almost all of us got into this business with a lot of sacrifice in order to be part of that journey. And so that’s what’s going to bring us together.”