It was to the epic theme of 2001: A Space Odyssey that Stephanie Bernardo and Steven Patzke, co-chairs of the Maroon and Gold Society, welcomed award-winning journalist Soledad O’Brien to Loyola’s Joseph J. Gentile Arena on Wednesday evening. O’Brien’s talk was the first of the Maroon and Gold Society’s lecture series and was titled “Diversity: On T.V., Behind the Scenes, and in our Lives.”
With more than 1,600 registered for the event, seats were hard to find by the time O’Brien took the stage. Gracious and charismatic, she began her lecture stating that she never set out to really change the world. As a young reporter, O’Brien and her coworkers were more concerned with figuring out how to get paid extra for being on camera or in a sound bite. But she realized over time the importance of the work she did, her dedication to it, and how it was her true passion.
O’Brien also spoke of the hardships her parents faced as an interracial couple while it was illegal in their home state of Virginia to be married and have children of mixed races. They stuck it out because, her mother said, she “always knew America was better than that.” O’Brien said her mother inspired her to stand up for what she believed in and to always push herself to be the best, and do the best, that she can.
“You have to constantly improve yourself,” she said. “It’s not meant to be easy. Find another door; find another way to do what is your mission.”
She spoke of the stories she told—from the horrors of Hurricane Katrina to the most recent presidential election—and how crucial it is to give a voice to as many people as she can, especially those without a voice. She cited her documentary series In America as a way to tell as many stories as she can about a given community.
“I think that, ultimately, has to be the goal of journalism,” she said. “Perspectives matter.”
She challenged students to discover what change they want to make in the world and what truly matters to them.
“If you can’t figure that out,” she said, “you can’t really live your life fully.”
O’Brien ended her talk with a quote from Dante’s Inferno: “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.”
She went on to say that in order to be leaders and agents of change, we all must act in the face of a crisis—not sit back and be silent—and ask ourselves regularly what we are doing for others.
The crowd erupted in applause and the floor was opened for a short Q&A session—during which, she mentioned it was the eve of her birthday. After the session, Loyola’s male a cappella group, the Aca’fellas, serenaded “Happy Birthday” to O’Brien and presented her with a Loyola sweatshirt.
O’Brien tweeted later in the evening that she “LOVED” her birthday sendoff and it was the first time the tune had been sung to her in key.
For more information on Soledad O’Brien and her work, visit her Facebook page.