At this point, the number one reason I love Wash U is the fact that I have been within thirty feet of Anderson Cooper at least once every year I’ve been here. Okay, maybe that isn’t the number one reason, but it is definitely a major plus. Last year, the renowned journalist and news anchor was on campus to moderate the 2016 presidential debate. This past Sunday, Cooper delivered the annual student address as the 2017 Founders Day keynote speaker.
Each year, the Washington University Alumni Association commemorates the university’s founding in 1853 by inviting a keynote speaker to give a brief speech and answer student questions. From Colin Powell to Margaret Thatcher, the speakers are always extremely interesting, engaging, and impressive. If the line of students waiting for tickets that wrapped around the building was any indication, it is a popular event. Tickets are handed out on a first come, first serve basis. I headed over to Emerson Auditorium around 11:30 to join a few other students and claim a spot in line until tickets were to be handed out at 2:00. We made valiant attempts at studying, but all sense of productivity fell to the wayside as our excitement grew with every passing minute. Before we knew it, we were getting fitted with wristbands and shuttled into our seats. After a few minutes of quiet chatting and whispers in anticipation, Cooper walked out on stage to a raucous applause and the event began!
To start, Cooper told us the story of his journey to becoming a journalist and news anchor. It was a truly riveting tale, full of more daring adventure and thrill than I think anyone was expecting. He basically got tired of being stuck in a fact-checking job. So, in order to establish himself as real reporter, he created a fake press pass and flew to war-torn countries to document what he saw there. He witnessed genocide in Rwanda, reported on apartheid in South Africa, and stayed with students fighting the government in Burma, creating his own stories with nothing more than his passion, drive, and an amateur video camera he had picked up on the way. The rest is history.
I found this Founder’s Day address particularly interesting because Cooper chose to focus most of his time on answering student questions. From how he maintains fair and balanced news coverage (“soft eyes”) to how he got to where he is today (“out-hustle everyone else) to what it was like to create a documentary about his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, Cooper answered everything we asked of him in a genuine and compelling way. As of right now, the accomplished journalist is my favorite speaker I have heard on campus so far. Wash U is always bringing in phenomenal speakers, so I know I have more to look forward to!