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I spoke to a group of University of Illinois journalism students this week, hoping to inspire some young minds.  But what really happened was…they inspired me.

The invitation to speak to the group began as series of events in May when I gave the Commencement speech for the College of Media at my alma mater.  When I checked into the Illini Union the night before my speech, a blue cap and gown were hanging in the room.  So, naturally when I went to give the speech, I put the gown on and walked excitedly to Gregory Hall, where Dean Jan Slater and a group of professors were holding a small reception before the ceremony.  One of the professors, Jennifer Follis noticed my gown was missing the traditional, orange “Block I” crest on the front.  She quickly pulled me aside and told me to switch robes with her.  I thanked her and told her “I owed her one”.  She told me I didn’t owe her…but that I could make it up to her students in the fall by being a guest-lecturer.  I promised to oblige.  Fast forward to September, when Professor Follis emailed asking if I would speak to her “Intro to Journalism” students about the ups and downs of this crazy media world of which we’re all a part.

Originally, I’d planned to drive down to Champaign after the show that day…but with the fast moving storms, severe rain and flooding, and a midday anchor who’d taken ill, I emailed her saying I’d be unable to make the trip down.  Dave Eanet suggested we Skype the lecture, which we decided to do.  After Professor Follis and I established the video connection later that day, I watched the students eagerly file into the room…they seemed to be excited…


I spent a few minutes introducing myself and explaining my daily duties and talking about my career path, and then we opened up the floor to questions.  I was amazed at how deep and meaningful the questions these ‘would-be’ reporters were asking.  Not just “what makes a good lead” or “what was your first job in radio”…but insightful and thoughtful questions that touched on the core of ethics and compassion.  Students were asking how emotional stories impacted us as journalists….how to be sensitive to the people you’re interviewing…how dependable Twitter really is…and best of all…how much do I love my job?  They wanted to know how to work as much as they could, didn’t seem to care about how much they’d be paid, and asked how we determine what makes a story lead-worthy.  They asked not IF, but HOW MANY languages they should learn how to speak and what other classes they should take so they could learn about the world in which they live.  These were questions I, along with others in my class, were taught to ask many years ago.  These are the questions that MUST STILL be asked today and for years to come.  I told the students to remember that we are all human– to respect situations and emotions– even when they run high when interviewing or talking to people, whether they’re sources, neighbors, families, or friends.  And I think they will.  They proved it when BOTH classes went well beyond the 45 minute mark and they were still lining up to ask how THEY could make a difference.  I believe they already have.