While writing her speech for the George Washington University commencement on Sunday, the Today co-anchor reflected on her "twisty, zigzaggy" journey

By Nick Maslow
May 19, 2019 11:15 AM

Savannah Guthrie traded Rockefeller Center for the National Mall this weekend, delivering the George Washington University commencement speech in Washington, D.C. on Sunday.

Speaking with PEOPLE before her big moment, the Today co-anchor previewed the advice she wants to share with students: give the worrying a break.

“I try to think about what I wish someone had told me when I was their age or at that moment in my life, and my big message is not to worry so much; that they have goals, and they should have goals, but really, the journey is the whole purpose,” Guthrie, 47, told PEOPLE.

It’s a timely message for graduates, as a new study from UC Berkeley suggests the “number of 18- to 26-year-old students who report suffering from anxiety disorder has doubled since 2008.”

“What you’re doing, the life you live, the company you keep, the friends you have and the things you learn along the way, that is the goal,” said Guthrie. “At some point, I say, ‘Your path is your purpose.’ And I really believe that. I’m all for setting high goals and just really trying to get after them, but I want them to feel good about whatever their path looks like.”

The way Guthrie sees it, the college graduates are “already on their way, they’re already doing what they’re supposed to do and they’re just where they’re supposed to be.”

Credit: GWU

It’s a lesson Guthrie has learned through trial and error on her path to Today. After graduating cum laude from the University of Arizona with a degree in journalism in 1993, Guthrie “worked very hard sending out tapes” to get her first TV news job.

“I tell the story in the speech — it’s funny now, but it wasn’t funny then,” said Guthrie. “I finally, finally landed a job in TV news in a tiny market in Montana, moved all the way up there, and 10 days after I started, they closed the station. My career was over before it even began.”

RELATED VIDEO: Savannah Guthrie on Becoming a Mom Later in Life: ‘I Can Really Take My Time and Enjoy My Kids’

It was one of “those moments where you think, ‘It’s over, I’m all washed up, I’ve got nowhere to go,’ ” said Guthrie. “It’s what you do in those moments that ultimately determine your whole path.”

After moving back home and feeling embarrassed, “I started sending out those tapes again, trying to get a job again — and ultimately I did,” she said.

But Guthrie hit the reset button again “about five or six years into it,” deciding to quit her job and head to Georgetown Law, where she graduated magna cum laude in 2002.

“I thought I wanted to be a lawyer, and I practiced law for a while,” Guthrie told PEOPLE. “And then I had an epiphany that, wait, I really wanted to be in TV news.”

Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb
| Credit: Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty

Looking back on her own “twisty, zigzaggy” journey, Guthrie can’t help but laugh.

“If anything, my experience will show that you can get off your path, you can have a course that doesn’t look like it was planned at all — and you can still end up right where you wanted to go and right where you wanted to be,” she said. “Getting there is half the interesting part anyway.”

Guthrie’s advice has been years in the making, but she admitted to “working on this speech for months.”

“I feel a lot of pressure because I really want to give them a speech that will inspire them and be memorable,” she said. “I’ve probably written like 10 drafts of it, but at some point, you just have to turn in a final draft and hope it’s good.”

Savannah Guthrie and husband Michael Feldman with daughter Vale and son Charley
| Credit: Savannah Guthrie/Instagram

She’s had some help along the way, especially from husband Michael Feldman, 50, with whom she shares daughter Vale, 4, and son Charley, 2.

“My husband has been my great helper and has read, I think, every draft of the speech,” she said. “He’s just a great encourager, but also has good ideas.”

With the preparation behind her, Guthrie said she was “excited” and “honored” to be part of the GWU graduates’ special day: “I love the idea of getting to share that moment with people who are just on the verge of really heading out into the world and going after their dreams.”