Emmy-award-winning broadcast journalist Michelle Miller, co-host of CBS This Morning: Saturday, will deliver the keynote address at St. Francis College's Spring 2019 Commencement on May 23rd.
As she prepared her speech, Miller shared her thoughts on St. Francis College students, her college years at Howard University, and her advice to students looking to forge careers in journalism.
You visited St. Francis College last month and spent time with students, faculty and administrators here. What did you take away from your visit?
My first impression was the collaboration I saw between students.
What was so remarkable was to see so many people from so many different parts of this city...and across this region...So many people who had different experiences, different backgrounds, who...came from different socioeconomic situations...from different ethnicities, and it was no big deal.
I know we're in New York City, I know we talk a lot about diversity, but what's clear to me at St. Francis is that it's diversity in action...it just seemed very organic to me. How people communed, how people related. That was my first impression.
You graduated from Howard University, an HBCU (Historically Black College or University) in Washington, DC. When you think back upon your college experience, how did it inform your career and your post-collegiate life?
I'm a third generation Howard-ite. My grandmother graduated [from Howard], my father from...undergraduate and [then] medical school [there]...My father [said] you can go anywhere you want to, but your first year you will attend Howard University.
I was a mixed race child... who grew up in south central Los Angeles and who had...two educated parents ...I knew black excellence and I've been around it most of my life, but I was always educated in a...diverse setting...I was one of maybe two African Americans in my [gifted and talented, honors and AP] classes...At Howard, the first thing that was reinforced to me is that I wasn't the smartest kid...But what was so interesting [at Howard] was that race wasn't the factor of stereotyping...I think a lot of people go to HBCUs so that race isn't a factor. I think it's important for some people... not to have that burden.
Howard is in Washington DC, the nation's capital...every Fortune 500 company...has an office there. Government [is there]... every news organization around the world has some arm, office [or] extension there... I had no idea what I wanted to do when I went to Howard... And [once there] I quite literally was bitten by the bug. It was instantaneous.
When I realized journalism was the profession I wanted, I went full steam ahead. I wrote for both newspapers on campus. I worked for the student radio station. I worked for the professional radio station, which at the time was the number one station in the city. We had the PBS affiliate at Howard University, and I worked for them... I worked on [Capitol] Hill....I worked for ABC News Nightline. Everything was at my fingertips at Howard because of it...being in the nation's capital.
That's what happened to me. Everyone has a different path and everyone has a different Aha moments. But when I got mine, it was full steam ahead and there was no looking back. Having the access [by being in New York City] affords [St. Francis students]...opportunity... And if they just explore, the world is theirs.
Is there anything specifically you would say to students interested in careers in journalism?
I think it's both a benefit and a curse that they're coming of age at a time in which the Internet and social media is so dominant and prominent...[As journalists] we rely on social media to lead us to some of our [story] sources...You see how easily manipulated...social media can be, and we have to be careful...We really have to be diligent and make sure that our sources are backed up by secondary and in some cases additional source[s].
Our democracy is being challenged... I really do believe that the first amendment is the first amendment because [our Founding Fathers] understood that the power of the press and journalism is fundamental to ensuring the health and wellbeing of democracy.
What we [journalists] do is so important to how we live because we're really the beacon of truth. We are seekers of the truth. So when people enter this profession, they need to wear that banner. They need to understand...it is not celebrity. It is not... entertainment. It should not be viewed lightly.
You [those entering journalism] have a great deal of power at your disposal and you must be responsible with it...Speak the truth. Tell the truth. Be fair. Be skeptical. And verify, verify, verify. In terms of who you are as a person, be authentic. Never apologize for who you are, where you came from. Your perspective....gives you insight in a way that is very different from someone else's...everyone's experience is different and all of those viewpoints need to be present in order for the press ... to be representative of the people they cover, the stories they cover, and the events they cover because nothing is ever black and white.
For those people pursuing journalism and looking for a job, your integrity is so important... you must be true to who you are, respectful of all others and you must be considerate and kind. People think...kindness and consideration aren't necessarily a factor in success, but that is the only reason that I am where I am today. I know how to own up to my mistakes ... I am respectful when I talk to people...I choose my battles. I have a great deal of respect for myself, but I do have a level of humility. I don't think that I am the end all, be all.
So my advice to people [interested in a journalism career] is to go for it. Meet as many people as you can, network as hard as you can. Every person you come in contact with in the business, outside of the business or you're covering in the business, those people matter because people talk, people interact and people will have an opinion about how you related to them. That is your reputation and that is what makes your career.
What messages do you hope to confer to graduates in your commencement address?
There was a lesson I learned in my life, it's another Aha moment. I noticed every time I speak out loud about something I want, something I desire, something I'm pursuing...it happens.
So my mantra is speak: speak to the universe, it will provide. When you speak out loud, you are being intentional. Words matter and intent matters. And I think that's one of my pearls of wisdom. When you do speak out loud, be careful because you will get what you speak for.
Any final thoughts about what being this spring 2019 commencement speaker means to you?
This is my very first commencement speech!
St. Francis College is in the city where I have made my greatest success. Brooklyn was [my family's] first point of entry into the great city of New York. We lived in Brooklyn for two years. We went to church right down the street from St. Francis College, at First Presbyterian.
I think it's just amazing that a college that I have no personal connection to outside of knowing a few people who work there would reach to me in this way. I'm thrilled. I'm honored. I'm humbled and I have been fretting about what I have to impart upon the class of 2019.
It has been 20 years since I got married. It is 30 years since I stood where they [graduates] are standing and received my diploma from Howard University. I actually hadn't thought about that until just now. It is exactly 30 years. And so I am just tickled pink... I'm so thrilled. I feel like I've entered the big leagues. That someone thinks that I have enough knowledge and enough lifetime experience to be able to give back to a group of people embarking upon the rest of their lives, it is such an honor. So I'm nervous. I am anxious. I am excited and I just can't wait to see how it's received.