NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Saying that the pursuit of excellence requires the desire to forge ahead in the face of obstacles, a prominent American journalist has told students at Tennessee State University that success comes with “finding out what you are best suited for” and going after it.
“Decide what success would look like for you and pursue it, but always with the thought to say, ‘what can this do for me,’” multiple award winning documentarian, news anchor and producer Soledad O’Brien, said Wednesday at a convocation in Kean Hall marking the 50th anniversary celebration of the TSU Honors Program.
Drawing from her own experience as a reporter earlier in her career, O’Brian, known for such documentaries as Black in America and Latino in America, said becoming a journalist after a Harvard education was not the route her parents expected her to go after paying so much to educate her.
“My first job was at a TV station, where not only was the pay small, but I was assigned to proofing copies and removing staples,” she said. “Eventually I got assignments doing sound, and in the process, I would include myself in the story, something that helped get me extra pay once the story was aired.”
This is where the woman who would become an anchor for NBC and CNN, two of the nation’s leading news organization, found her niche, she said.
“I love being part of the story that would help enhance someone’s life, and knowing that I have influenced something spectacular,” she said.
Telling the students that nothing good comes easy, O’Brien talked about the struggles of her own parents as mixed couple in America when interracial marriage was illegal in many parts of the nation including Baltimore where they lived.
“My father, a white Australian, and my mother, a black woman from Cuba, faced discrimination on all fronts, with my mother at times trying to hide her Hispanic identity because she wanted to blend in. To get married they had to go to the District of Columbia but came back to Baltimore and kept their marriage a secret,” she said. “When my mother had her sixth child in 1967 that’s when the Supreme Court legalized interracial marriage. That means that we were all illegal children until 1967.”
Driving home her story of perseverance in the face of opposition, O’Brien told the students that had her parents given up, lots of dreams, including hers, would probably have been lost.
“They did not give up; they understood the importance of moving ahead because they believed in what they wanted, and that’s leadership,” she added.
O’Brien, now a special correspondent for Al Jazeera’s America Tonight, has won multiple Emmy and Tony awards for her reporting on issues in America. She was part of the CNN team that won an Emmy for the 2012 Election Coverage, and another Emmy for her special report Kids on Race.
She urged the students to emulate examples from people who did not give up but showed true leadership to accomplish what they set out for.
“Martin Luther King Jr. was a regular person who stayed when others ran. He decided that he would use his voice to lead …that’s leadership. What are you going to do to leverage what your parents have invested in you,” she added.
O’Brien, who earlier joined TSU President Glenda Glover, alumni, special guests, faculty and students at an Honors Luncheon in the Gentry Center, congratulated the University for celebrating 50 years of recognizing the achievement of the best and brightest of the institution.
“We thank you for coming to join us for this very special celebration in the institution and for inspiring our students and all of us today,” Dr. Glover told O’Brien. “We wish you all the best as you continue your journey of excellence.”
Dr. Coreen Jackson, director of the University Honors Program, who also thanked O’Brien for accepting their invitation to speak at the 50th anniversary celebration, followed the President.
In addition to recognizing the year’s top honor students, the University paid tribute to the former Director of the University Honors Program, Dr. McDonald Williams and his wife, Dr. Jayme Coleman Williams, former dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
The tribute included the presentation of the Dr. McDonald Williams Scholarship to Laurena Thomas, a junior Mass Communication major from Memphis with a 3.65 GPA.
Department of Media Relations
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About Tennessee State University
With nearly 9,000 students, Tennessee State University is Nashville’s only public university, and is a comprehensive, urban, co-educational, land-grant university offering 38 undergraduate, 22 graduate and seven doctoral programs. TSU has earned a top 20 ranking for Historically Black Colleges and Universities according to U.S. News and World Report, and rated as one of the top universities in the country by Washington Monthly for social mobility, research and community service. Founded in 1912, Tennessee State University celebrated 100 years in Nashville during 2012. Visit the University online at tnstate.edu.