From: “Enter the job world confidently and dream big”

Al From, Op-Ed Contributor

In spring 1966, I arrived in Washington, D.C. to join the inaugural class of the Washington program at the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications. I never left. NU changed my life, putting me on a life trajectory I could never have imagined growing up in an insular community in South Bend, Indiana. 

When I entered Northwestern as a freshman in fall 1961, I was quite certain of my life’s course. I would study journalism at Medill, get a job at a newspaper and, if all went right, work my way up to managing editor or editor in chief.   

Then, my five years at Medill exposed me to ideas and opportunities I never knew existed and helped me develop the skills necessary to succeed in a fast-changing world. My experience as editor in chief of The Daily gave me confidence to take on big challenges long after I left Fisk Hall. 

But two experiences, more than any others, changed the course of my life.

The first was a meeting with legendary Mississippi newspaper editor Hodding Carter II, about whom I had learned in a History of Journalism class my freshman year. That meeting in 1965 convinced me to write my master’s thesis on how his newspaper led Greenville, Mississippi, to racial progress during the Civil Rights Movement.  

The second came during the Washington program in spring 1966, when Edgar May (Medill ’57) asked me to work for him in the War on Poverty.  

May’s offer came just as I was preparing to return to Chicago and begin a job as a reporter at the Chicago Daily News. I accepted May’s offer, called the Daily News to tell them I would not be returning to Chicago and never looked back.

My job was to investigate how War on Poverty programs were working on the front lines and to send missives back to headquarters that read more like New Yorker articles than stodgy government reports. I was assigned to the Deep South, the hotbed of civil rights activity that I had written about in my thesis.

My career was on a new and exciting trajectory and the skills I learned at Medill served me well at every stop. After the War on Poverty, I worked as a staff director of a U.S. Senate subcommittee, a presidential advisor in the White House and as director of the U.S. House Democratic Caucus. In 1985, with a young Arkansas governor, Bill Clinton and others, I founded the Democratic Leadership Council, which redefined the Democratic Party and helped Clinton catapult to the presidency. 

In 1998, with the president and First Lady Hillary Clinton, I began a dialogue with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and other world leaders as the DLC brand became a model for resurgent center-left governments around the world. 

After retiring from the DLC, I wrote a book, “The New Democrats and the Return to Power,” which was made into a documentary film called “Crashing the Party” and I teach an online graduate school course in government at Johns Hopkins University.  

My advice to graduating Medill students is to enter the job world confidently and to dream big. Your years at Medill have prepared you not only to succeed in your first job but to make choices throughout your career that will allow you to rise to heights that you cannot yet envision.

When I made that fateful decision to stay in Washington in 1966, I could never have known that the prestigious Chicago Daily News would close its doors in 1978. Nor could I have imagined that my career would give me the opportunity to work at the highest levels in Washington and with leaders around the world. 

But my Medill experience prepared me for all possibilities.

Al From (Medill ’65, ’66) is a member of the inaugural class of the Medill Hall of Achievement. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.