The Daily Northwestern

Journalism takes center stage at Homecoming panel

David Fishman, Reporter

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Five Northwestern alumni returned to campus on Friday for the seventh annual Homecoming panel, moderated by University President Morton Schapiro.

The event, titled “Who Are You Because of NU?” highlighted alumni from various backgrounds, with a notable emphasis on journalism: Michael Wilbon (Medill ’80), host of ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption”; Christine Brennan (Medill ’80, ’81), a national sports columnist for USA Today; Sheinelle Jones (Medill ’00), a news anchor for NBC’s “Weekend Today” program; Douglas Stotland (Weinberg ’90), a product marketing director at Facebook; and Dennis Chookaszian (McCormick ’65), former chairman and CEO of CNA Insurance Companies.

Catered to an alumni-filled crowd, panelists offered advice ranging from writing old-fashioned thank you notes to the need for constant reinvention.

Chookaszian, who recently donated $6.5 million to establish a computer science program in his name, said NU taught him to adapt.

“It was the training I got that allowed me to understand that one simple concept: You’ve got to constantly reinvent yourself and deal with a new world,” he said.

Other panelists discussed the importance of curricula that cover all subjects, not just math and science.

“When I’m hiring for Facebook or Microsoft, I value a liberal arts background,” Stotland said. “At Facebook, we’re trying to connect billions of people around the world. Your contribution comes less from the code you write and more from how well you can understand the change in management.”

Schapiro responded positively to the remark.

“I love when I hear techies who appreciate literature,” he said.

Schapiro also noted that NU’s single most ubiquitous experience was Prof. Saul Morson’s Russian Literature course, taken by one in three graduating seniors.

Sports journalism also dominated the stage this year, with two of the five panelists actively working in that profession.

“Sports used to be called the toy department,” Brennan said. “It used to be the escape from our society and now it’s a mirror of our society. Sports takes us to these national conversations that are so important.”

Brennan, whose 2012 column for USA Today prompted Augusta National Golf Club to admit women, said sports represent more than just athletics.

“These issues transcend sports,” she told The Daily. “I’m not waving pompoms saying ‘Go team.’ I’m writing my 25th column about domestic violence.”

At the conclusion of the event, panelists were asked to impart one piece of wisdom on NU students. Wilbon responded staunchly.

“Grow up,” he said. “Learn how to handle stress. What do you think you’re going into, a world where somebody’s going to exempt you from stress?”

Wilbon, who worked for Lerner Newspapers in Chicago during college, said he often would not return to campus until 4 a.m. Monday. Nevertheless, he made it to class the next day.

“That’s what you do,” he said. “You’re supposed to be tested, you’re supposed to learn how to navigate and handle stress. If you don’t learn how to handle it here, where the hell are you going to learn it?”

Twitter: @davidpkfishman