Sitting at the end of a table in a WCCO-TV conference room, Katie Couric took a deep breath before reflecting on her infamous interview with Sarah Palin.
“I wasn’t really sure what kind of impact it would have,” Couric said. “I really wanted to focus on asking good questions and making sure that if she didn’t answer them I politely persisted.”
Couric left the anchor desk to deliver the keynote speech at the University of Minnesota Alumni Association 106th Annual Celebration on Saturday. About 2,000 alumni, students and faculty attended the celebration in Mariucci Arena. 1,200 guests paid $20 to $30 to have dinner beforehand, while the other 800 guests paid $10 to attend the speech.
Shortly after taking the stage, Couric told the students in the audience, “I was going to go to The Library for ‘White Trash Wednesday,’ but I left my fanny pack at home, so that really couldn’t happen.” While she read off a teleprompter, Couric was able to keep her tone fresh and casual. She peppered her speech with a litany of quotes from colleagues, proverbs and statesmen, and talked about what she learned from trying times throughout her life, including when she began her tenure in her current position.
“According to the critics, I couldn’t do anything right. From the white jacket I wore on the first night … to my makeup, to the way I held my hands on the anchor desk, to the stories we did,” Couric said. “I had to tell myself, ‘You’re good at your job, you have something to offer and who the hell do these people think they are anyhow?’ ”
Before the celebration, Couric stopped by WCCO-TV to record promotions with anchorwoman Amelia Santaniello and anchorman Frank Vascellaro and sat down for interviews with Don Shelby, WCCO Radio, Minnesota magazine and The Minnesota Daily.
“You know, college students have helped teach me about social networking,” Couric said. “So it’s something I try to keep up with and be a part of, because I don’t want to be left in the dust.”
Susan Adams Loyd, WCCO-TV’s general manager, Alumni Association board member and a personal friend of Couric, was instrumental in getting the anchorwoman to the annual meeting. “We’ve been trying to get Katie Couric for years,” Alumni Association National Board President Archie Givens said. “When Susan joined the board in 2009, we immediately challenged her to get Katie.”
Despite the ailing economy, various members of the Alumni Association — including University President Bob Bruininks — took the opportunity to acknowledge the achievements made in 2009. “Even in the current economy, we continue to attract approximately $700 million annually in competitive grants and contracts,” Bruininks said. “Our national and international profile in interdisciplinary fields is diverse and continues to attract funding and world-class scholars.” A video featured the opening of TCF Bank Stadium, which received the loudest applause from the audience, and mentioned how the association hit an all-time record with nearly 60,000 members.
Later, Givens introduced the association’s national board executive committee, including new CEO Phil Esten. Instead of taking a speaker’s fee, Couric requested the money be directly donated to National Colorectal Cancer Research Alliance, which she co-founded. A major part of her speech was how she lost her husband to colon cancer in 1998 and her sister to pancreatic cancer in 2001. Since then, she has been an advocate for cancer research, even going as far as having an on-air colonoscopy in 2000. After that, colonoscopy screenings went up 20 percent, Couric said in her speech, which led one university to dub it “The Couric Effect.”
“If you appreciate me coming to Minneapolis,” Couric told the audience, “the way you can say thank you is to get screened [for colon cancer] yourself. Seriously.”
Before leaving the stage, Couric answered a handful of submitted questions. She answered questions regarding her coverage of Sept. 11, the future of journalism and the current situation in Haiti. She ended the evening by posing for photos and schmoozing with alumni. “This fantastic University is home to 40,000 young, brilliant minds,” Couric said. “Maybe you can be a Tim Russert, that voice that says, ‘Yes you can’ and ‘I believe in you.’ ”
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