Anderson Cooper on "finding your bliss"

The CNN anchor and 60 Minutes correspondent shared his experiences as a reporter abroad and gave advice to students in the audience.

Anderson Cooper never anticipated becoming a television anchor.

In fact, he’s suspicious of anyone who tells him that’s what they want to become.

“It’s like a kid who tells me they want to be a politician: I think you should be a real person before you become a fake one,” he said.

“Learning what you don't like to do is almost just as important as learning what you do like to do.”
- Anderson Cooper

Cooper spoke to a jam-packed Hergenhan Auditorium Thursday night at the third annual “Truth Be Told” sold-out event, sponsored by Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. and the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ). His talk was driven by question and answer format.

Cooper took the audience across the pond to places like Afghanistan and Congo, and said that he first ‘got into’ war correspondence by using a fake press pass that his friend had made him – he just “showed up at wars.”

He figured that if he went somewhere that was very dangerous, he wouldn’t have much competition. “You run towards what everyone else is running from,” he said.

When Cooper began his college career at Yale University, he had no idea what he wanted to do or what he wanted to become, so he turned to his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, a noted socialite and early developer of the blue jeans. She told Cooper, “Follow your bliss” – advice she, herself, had heard during a Bill Moyer interview.

“The problem, of course, with following your bliss is trying to figure out what your bliss is, and at the time I wasn’t so sure,” he said.

Since his college days, Cooper has become the primary face and anchor of the CNN news show Anderson Cooper 360°, and has also been a correspondent for 60 Minutes since 2007. Notably, Cooper believes in the importance of being right versus being first, and also cares a lot about the human side of the story.

“I don’t believe in hardening your heart and viewing these things as stories,” he said.

He also said that just because you can do something as a reporter, doesn’t mean you should. He feels it is his job to deliver accurate news, not to try to sway his audience one way or another.

“I don’t view it as my job to wear my opinions on my sleeve,” he said. “I couldn’t fake it if I wanted to.” He thinks viewers are smart enough to digest the news on their own.

Cooper said that another big reality in television is that there are people who tell you how you should look and sound. He recounted the sole time he went to see a vocal coach, and joked that his company is probably still paying for the lessons he hasn’t attended since. “People should be who they are,” he said.

NABJ president Kelvin Sherman said that Anderson Cooper “made sense” to come and speak at SU.

“Part of NABJ’s mission is to educate about diversity in the newsroom, and like Anderson said, today, we’re more diverse than ever – there’s still room for more improvement with diversity in the newsroom,” Sherman said.

The television-radio-film senior said that diversity goes far beyond being black: it means diversity for all people, like gays or those of different economic or social status.

As he’s gotten older, Cooper said that he’s become more open to other people’s ideas. He said that the more he travels, the less he feels he knows in a lot of ways.

“I don't see things as black and white I think as I did when I was first graduating college,” he said.

Cooper reflected on what it was like for him right after college graduation. “I felt like any decision I made was bringing me down a path that was going to eliminate all other opportunities and all other possible careers,” Cooper said, “and I realize now, in retrospect, it’s not that way at all.”

Cooper stressed that once you get your foot in the door of a new job, it’s important to hustle, work harder than everyone else around you and volunteer for the assignments or projects that no one else wants to take – make yourself indispensible, he said.

Cooper said that it’s hard to figure out what you want to do in life; he still isn’t entirely sure – and that’s okay.

“Learning what you don't like to do is almost just as important as learning what you do like to do,” he said.

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