Q & A with commencement speaker Anne Thompson

By The Beacon | April 17, 2014 3:19am

Chief Environmental Affairs Correspondent for NBC News Anne Thompson is this year's commencement speaker.
Photo courtesy of Virginia Sherwood/NBC

Kelsey Thomas |

Before you don your cap and gown on May 3rd, meet the speaker who will be delivering the commencement address, Chief Environmental Affairs Correspondent for NBC News Anne Thompson. A graduate of Notre Dame, Thompson has traveled across the world in her career as a journalist. She has reported on national, financial and economic issues, including the economic impact of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, the attack on the World Trade Center and global warming.

Beacon: What’s your connection to the University of Portland?

Thompson: I know Fr. Beauchamp. We served together on the University of Notre Dame Board of Trustees.

Beacon: You were in Portland in the 90s to cover the Tonya Harding incident. What was your experience?

Thompson: I was working in Detroit for the first time. I was the reporter for the NBC affiliate in Detroit and I got a call from a top source who said “go the the airport, fly to Portland.” And that’s exactly what I did. I never went home, I went straight to the airport and bought a ticket and stayed in Portland for three weeks.

Beacon: Was that your last time in Portland?

Thompson: I think it is the only time I’ve been to Portland, unfortunately. It was crazy, we were working every day. But there were two days were we had the afternoons off, and one afternoon we went cross country skiing up at Mount Hood and the other afternoon we went to the coast and Cannon Beach and that area. Both of which I totally love and would love to go back to.

Beacon: Anything else in Portland you plan to visit while here?

Thompson: Well first of all I am excited to go to the University of Portland. I’ve been doing some research for the preparation for my speech, and any University that gives out humor scholarships is a place I want to go. I think laughter is the best medicine and in my job I cover a lot of things that need medicine in the broadest sense of the term. I love the fact that you give $3,333.33 for a scholarship, and that tells me you’ve got a sense of humor and don’t take yourself too seriously.

Beacon: I know you’ve met an immense amount of people throughout your career, but does anyone stand out as an extra interesting interview?

Thompson: I was on the cable flight from Rio to Rome while Pope Francis came back and gave the news conference. While it wasn’t a one-on-one interview, it was a news conference like I had never seen before. He stood and talked to us for 82 minutes. He never asked an aid for a piece of information, never looked at his notes, never dodged a question. First of all, I never thought I would get to see the pope, let alone be on a plane with the pope, who talked about everything, from women’s ordination to gay priests to the direction of his papacy. That is really one of the most incredible things I’ve seen.

Beacon: A lot of graduating students have mentioned that they’re discouraged either from not having a job secured yet or from not securing the dream job they’ve pictured themselves doing. Any advice?

Thompson: Well first of all, the thing you have to remember is your first job will never be your only job and it’s just a start. You can’t start until you take that first step and that first step is your first job. We all put way too much pressure on ourselves thinking it has to be perfect and has to be the best and has to set me on the trajectory of my career. It’s funny, in preparing for my speech I’ve asked a lot of people who are much older than the graduating class “what do you wish you knew then that you know now?” and somebody has said to me “I didn’t need to worry so much about my first job.”

I graduated at the end of the Carter administration and at that time Arts & Letters was considered pre-unemployment, much like it is now, and it’s very scary and it’s very daunting, particularly when you have tens of thousands of dollars in debt, and that’s not to make light of it. But the reality is you will get out there and you have skills and it’s just about figuring how best to market  yourself.

The other thing is to leave a little room for magic, that sort of kismet that will happen as well. You may start at one job and realize it’s not for you. Your first job helps you figure out what you want to do, it doesn’t have to be what you do, it helps you figure out where you want to go in life and what you want to do.

Listen: the most important thing they have is the best education you can get. I am in part a product of the education given to me by the Holy Cross. I am stunned at how I use it every single day of my life. I jokingly compare it to a good wine, it just keeps getting better and better, and I’m amazed at that. They didn’t just educate my mind, they educated my heart and soul. That’s what makes them unique, what makes them vital, and what makes them so important. And while you may not have the job when you walk out the door, you will have a job and you will contribute to society and you will have reason to be very proud. You just have to give it a little time and be gentle with yourself.

Beacon: You’re in Boston right now covering the anniversary of the bombings. What has that been like? How has the climate been?

Thompson: There’s a somber atmosphere here today because this is a day a lot of people have dreaded, the first anniversary of the bombings. But I was at the memorial service this afternoon and I was struck listening to the survivors, how they all said thank you. Thank you to the first responders, thank you to the hundred and ninety thousand people around the world who donated to the One Fund that was organized in the aftermath of the bombings, thank you to their families, thank you to all the doctors and nurses who really did heroic work. There were three lives lost and 246 injured, and those are 246 people who are here today and with their families. I covered this a year ago and I knew [the anniversary] would be very sad, but in the end I found it very surprising. Especially the survivors… this was a city that was not terrified, but united, and its a pretty inspiring place to be.