06/01/2009 at 08:15 PM EDT
The annual Class Day address at Princeton University requires a speaker with a flair for comedy. But before she even began on Monday, Katie Couric feared the joke was on her, courtesy of Mother Nature.
"It was quite an honor, although slightly daunting to follow in the footsteps of Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart and Jerry Seinfield," Couric, 52, says. "At the precise moment I got up to walk to the podium ... a hawk dropped its half-eaten lunch – a dead bird – in front of me. It landed with a thud."
But then the CBS Evening News anchor jumped right into her irreverent speech that offered a not-so-subtle dig at Sarah Palin "I've been called a cougar lately ... but today ... I'm very happy to be an honorary Tiger instead!" she said, referring to the school's mascot. "Coming here was a real no brainer! After all, I can see New Jersey from my house!"
On a more serious note, she offered some words of wisdom. "Don't be a hater," she said. "Princeton has taught you to think critically, to approach things with a healthy dose of skepticism ... and that's a good thing, as Martha Stewart would say. ... Rise above the collegial nastiness and instead celebrate excellence."