Fairfield Now - Winter 2009
Luck and Resilience
By Virginia Weir
NewsHour's Judy Woodruff delivered the 2009 President's Lecture, a recognition event which brings to campus notable speakers who, through their lives and work, embody the Jesuit ideals of living as "whole persons" - mind, body, and spirit - and inspiring others to do the same.
Broadcast journalist Judy Woodruff was the speaker at the second annual President's Lecture in September, an event that recognizes and celebrates the University's President's Circle supporters. Woodruff, who has spent almost 40 years in journalism and is now senior correspondent for PBS' NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, described the current climate in Washington: "I have never seen anything as interesting and perhaps as uncertain as the time we are going through right now, starting with the nation's first African-American president. It's not a cliché to say that he (President Obama) is at a crossroads on the critical issues of our time."
She added that the President will have to "thread the needle" on crucial issues such as healthcare reform and the war in Afghanistan - issues on which the electorate is deeply divided.
The current climate of "mistrust, partisanship, and animosity, pains me the most about the way government works today, or the way it doesn't work," she said. In the Reagan era, she noted, Republicans and Democrats would have drinks and dinner together. "Now (they) barely get together over a cup of coffee." In these times of opinion slinging, Woodruff advocates for a return to the collection of facts, information, and research in journalism.
Woodruff recounted how she started her career as a secretary in a news affiliate in Atlanta. "There were many lessons I learned about luck and about resilience. It was the late 1960s, a time of 'churn and turmoil,'" she noted. "The luck was the fact that I came along as a woman interested in television news at a time when there were literally almost no women in the field. If I'd come along 10 years earlier, there would've been no jobs, period, and if I'd come along 10 years later, I'm convinced I would never have survived the competition."
Woodruff was finally assigned a local reporting beat, eventually covering Georgia legislators. She made her way to in New York, where she was advised to take voice lessons to tone down her southern accent. She took just one lesson, when she got the call to take a position as Southeast affiliate for NBC.
University President Rev. Jeffrey P. von Arx, S.J.,
praised Woodruff for her courage, and said he
was inspired "by the kind of person she is and
how she goes about her craft."
More than 200 guests were in attendance at the
lecture; Woodruff mingled with President's Circle
members at the reception following the lecture,
including Paul Huston '82, chairman of the
University's Board of Trustees, and his wife, Linda.
Woodruff lobbied to go to Washington, D.C. to cover Jimmy Carter's front run for the presidency, and in 1976, at age 30, she became NBC News' White House correspondent, covering both the Carter and Ronald Reagan administrations. She later anchored the award-winning PBS weekly documentary series, Frontline with Judy Woodruff. Then, for 12 years at CNN, Woodruff was anchor for a weekday political program and covered breaking news, including the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, and other news. She eventually left CNN to go back to PBS to work with Jim Lehrer and Robert MacNeil.
More recently, in her popular 2007 documentary, Generation Next, Woodruff interviewed more than 500 young people, aged 16 to 25, about their partici-pation in politics. "We learned that this generation is more diverse than any generation in history," she said, noting that one in eight interviewed was born outside of the United States, and one in five had one parent born in another country.
"These young people are more comfortable with people from different cultures and races, comfortable with sexual orientation; they don't like to be labeled - most all would be registered independent. They are surprisingly serious about their faith," she said, "but not in an organized way. They are defining their faith in their own ways."
"I've seen a lot ... but no lesson I've learned, nothing prepared for me for what happened in my own family."
President's Circle members Nancy and Roger
Lynch '63, P'95, a former trustee, enjoyed the lecture.
"It was a sad eye-opener about the partisan politics
today ... it was a lot to see, feel, and think about,"
Roger said. "And her story brought out a really human
side that showed us why she is who she is in a really
honest way," added Nancy.
Members of the Class of 1954 reconnected at a
special 55th Reunion reception after the lecture.
Pictured from left to right are Ed Gawitt, Bob Marconi,
Bill Smith, and Patsy Pagliarulo.
Woodruff shared the inspiring personal story of her eldest son, who was born with spina bifida and spent the first 16 years of his life "fighting valiantly to keep up with his peers." For the most part, he succeeded at having a relatively normal childhood and adolescence, but after an operation as a teenager he was left in a coma, unable to walk, talk, or eat. He spent five and a half months in a hospital in Baltimore and returned home to a very different existence.
"But he surprised everybody," she continued. With a lot of rehabilitation he managed to return to school and later to college with full-time nursing assistance and is due to graduate this December. "Through it all, he has kept a sense of humor and a great quiet spirit that has really lifted us all. He has to climb a mountain every morning," Woodruff said, "before he brushes his teeth."
"I work every day at the craft of journalism. I love my work. But beyond all that, what my son has taught me is that no matter what setbacks life hands us, we must pick ourselves up every day and we owe to our loved ones and to ourselves to do that."
Engaging the Community: A new blog from Fairfield's President
At the beginning of the President's Lecture, Judy Woodruff noted that she had read with interest Fr. von Arx's new blog on the website of the Connecticut Post called "The President's View."
"President von Arx, in his few years here, clearly has already had a profound effect on the life of this institution, on its energy, on its mission, and especially on its students," she said.
The motivation behind creating the President's blog was to create a forum for integrating current events and issues with University life. Since the first entry in August, President von Arx has ruminated on a range of subjects - from a day-in-the-life of a University president to the core curriculum, creating a green campus, citizenship, the racial achievement gap, and merit aid.
In one post, "Should universities teach 'citizenship'?" Fr. von Arx noted that one of the missions of the university should be "to form young men and women who are capable of being responsible citizens, who understand their obligation to participate in our democracy; to defend our rights and institutions; to lead our governments ... to teach our children - in short, young men and women who accept that they have an obligation to be of service to the common good."
You can check out "The President's View" by visiting http://blog.ctnews.com/vonarx/.