Charm and Humanity in Journalism: Anderson Cooper Pays Smith A Visit

Evelyn Crunden ’13
Features Editor-at-large

After several weeks of terse ticket sales and anticipation, CNN news anchor and host of Anderson Cooper 360°, Anderson Cooper made an appearance at Smith on April 14, where he partook in a conversation with Dean Jane Stangl on everything from journalism as a field to juggling private and public life. Fielding questions from students and outside participants alike, Cooper charmed the audience with his brevity, humor and willingness to share elements of his personal life in conjunction with his more celebrity-like news persona. The crowd seemed receptive and excited by his presence, and the end of it left Cooper navigating his way around a teeming mob of fans.

The result of much collaboration and conversation, Cooper’s appearance was the remedy to a quandary facing the Students Events Committee (SEC) by the end of last year. Having previously brought musical acts to play in John M. Greene Hall, the group changed approaches this year and opted instead to promote popular speakers invited to engage the student body.

This decision has been defended by SEC as a move to appeal more to the uniqueness of the student body itself.

“To me, it makes the most logical sense. UMass has the better venue for major concerts, and JMG does not have the best dance space,” said SEC member Samantha Driscoll ’14. “Smith having a lecture series is simply more tailored to fit our school. We are bright scholars, passionate about a variety of issues going on in today’s world. I think people were receptive – the line for Anderson Cooper tickets went out the Campus Center front door on the first day! Also, the attendance was outstanding – something I hope to see at future lectures.”

Sofia Contino ’14, head of the Lecture Series that co-hosted Cooper, also had input regarding the event.

“When planning the lecture series, which started with our smaller event in the fall, when we hosted journalist Eugene Robinson, we thought of possibly establishing a theme for each year; this year, partly because of the elections, I thought bringing journalists and media personalities would be a good fit,” she shared. “I started just by throwing ideas around, then I presented a shortlist to the org and we discussed our favorites. I was in contact with the booking agent, and when Cooper accepted our invitation, Patrick Connelly in the OSE moved forward and shouldered so much of the planning – we are incredibly grateful to him.”

Cooper, who also reports for 60 Minutes, spoke at length about many aspects of his life: his complicated start into the world of journalism, his personal relationship with loss following the deaths of his father and brother, his entertaining dynamic with personalities like Kathy Griffin, and his struggles as both a human being and a journalist. In a moment that seemed to appeal to the Smith student body at large, Cooper spoke of his recent public “coming out” and acknowledgement of his homosexuality despite a life of attempted privacy. Admitting the danger the admission had put him in, he also spoke to his own feelings of pride and contentment, noting, “I’m incredibly proud to be gay. I wouldn’t change it for the world. It’s the greatest blessing in my life.”

Smith students on the whole seemed incredibly pleased by Cooper’s appearance. Comments about the importance of remembering the names of the victims, not the shooter in tragedies like the recent shooting in Newtown, Conn., and of speaking out when injustice is being done, specifically in regards to Hurricane Katrina, but also throughout journalistic work as a field, all resonated with the crowd and garnered applause and murmurs of appreciation.

“Getting to hear Anderson Cooper speak was honestly one of my best experiences at Smith,” shared Abeer Khatana ’15. “I respect him as a journalist and as a human being. Sometimes, after spending time in the ‘Smith bubble,’ you start fearing the outside world [and] you become afraid that not everyone cares as much as you or your peers. It was wonderful seeing such substantial proof that there are wonderful people doing wonderful things in the world; it was especially inspirational due to the fact that he is so self-made.”

Other Smithies felt similarly. “I thought it was wonderful to have such a visible and well-respected journalist speak here at Smith,” said Marisa Acierno ’13. “I admire his honesty and integrity when reporting, and having the opportunity to hear him speak in person about his background, experiences and approach to journalism was a once in a lifetime opportunity. It was informative and inspiring, bringing the campus together in a way no spring concert or performance ever has.”

The event seems to have been an overall success for its planners and a hit with the Smith community at large.

“I think SEC’s decision to host lectures over concerts was a very smart one,” said Khatana. “It caters to the Smith students and shows that they understand our interests and passions. I wouldn’t say one is more important that the other. Concerts are wonderful and can be just as inspirational as hearing a lecture.”

Driscoll felt good about the event as well. “A lot of planning went into it. We knew far in advance that we were bringing him and had to keep it secret due to the contract. These days, events are difficult with regards to attendance, but because it was Anderson Cooper we had no worries.”

When asked what she enjoyed most about the event, she slyly responded, “Before the lecture, I sat next to Anderson Cooper at dinner. NBD.”

Cooper concluded his time at the college by answering questions relating to the role of women in the media and to his own personal advice for those graduating or looking into journalism. He left to boisterous applause and a standing ovation from the excited crowd. His reception at the college remains a positive sign for SEC’s continued plans to bring speakers instead of concerts, as well as to the level of participation from the student body. Ultimately it was clear that the right choice had been made, and the night was a success for all involved.

SEC meets on Wednesdays at 7:00 p.m. in the Campus Center; all are welcome. 

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