Grad Speaker Cheryl Preheim: “Serving is Leading”
Cheryl Preheim delivered the commencement address for Journalism & Mass Communication graduates on December 20, 2012. Preheim is the evening weekend anchor on 9News is Denver. She has won two national Edward R. Murrow awards, six Emmys and numerous awards from the Colorado Broadcasters Association, the Associated Press and other news organizations. She holds a communications degree from CU.
Here is the text of Preheim’s speech:
Congratulations. Isn’t it amazing to think there was a time that you felt like this time would never come?
Then you sit here today and realize how fast four years can really go – how fast 20-some years really go. Trust me; your parents are thinking that too.
And you have an opportunity to leave this place with a mindset that can greatly impact where the next 20 years take you. And how, in that time, you can impact others. And that, is really the key.
I spent my last semester here at CU so focused on my plan: my life: me. I had to figure out where I would work, where I would live, how much money would I make – what in the world was I doing with my life.
I applied to be a teacher with Americorps because I thought it would be an impactful experience…and I thought there was about a one in a million shot of me actually landing a job in journalism. But I decided to at least give it a shot.
So, I interned at Channel 9. I went in late night after my shift to practice re-writing scripts and editing. And when my intern boss called me in and said he knew I’d been coming in after hours I thought I was busted. Turns out it was why he was recommending me for what would be my first official job. 850 KOA radio – home of the Buffs. I did halftime reports for CU women’s basketball and even ran with Ralphie at a football game.
While I worked at KOA I volunteered at a community TV station. Long days for no money but it was experience I needed. The news director at 9 saw me there. Then for a year I worked at KOA from 4am to 11 and from 11 to 6pm at channel 9. That turned into a full time contract – and that was 13 years ago.
I say all that to tell you…I’m not the smartest reporter and anchor there ever was, and I have a face for radio…I may not have had the most impressive resume and my family didn’t know anyone who could help me with an opportunity. The bottom line: I worked hard and someone noticed every time.
What I never really thought about through much of that time trying to build a career…and a life…was anything but my life. I was working hard, trying to advance my career and meet personal goals. Maybe it seems like the logical thing to do.
But, if I could rewind to your seats…I wouldn’t have just considered “me” so much as I considered my future. I wouldn’t have described myself as selfish, I loved being there for my friends and trying to do nice things. But I underestimated how much we all can make a difference in big ways – bigger ways then we typically consider.
I got a late start on that…you don’t have to.
About three weeks ago I got back from a work trip to Haiti. We traveled with President and Mrs. Jimmy Carter – a president long before your time…almost before mine….He was president in 1976 when the economy was struggling, consumer confidence was low, and the nation was in a time of crisis. People needed something to believe in. They needed to be inspired. Sound familiar?
Also on our trip: Country singers Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood. We’d all gone with a group with Habitat for Humanity to build 100 homes in one week. You might remember the telethons for the victims of the Haiti devastating earthquake. It killed 200,000 and flattened entire communities.
That was your sophomore year. Well, people moved on…Haiti couldn’t. Three years after the earthquake, 400,000 people who had houses before are living in tents, at best. That is the population of Colorado Springs….or about 15 times the population of the entire CU student body.
One night Garth Brooks told the rest of the group of volunteers something I hope you’ll remember as much as I have.
He said: “Being in Haiti and seeing the need. Seeing children who don’t have clean water or a home gives me an opportunity. He said, “You have to understand, that because I’m famous, people cater to me. They always want to help me – give me things when I already have more than I need.” He said, “Being here gives me an opportunity for one week not to be selfish. “ This stuck with me: Garth Brooks told us, “The challenging part is holding onto that perspective when we all go back home to our lives and is stuff.”
That is the truth.
We all have an opportunity to live an unselfish life – not just a week or so a year. That’s not just about money. Maybe it’s time. Maybe it’s how you consider your friends or your co-workers.
Our mindset leads our actions and actions say it all.
My husband loves the saying “talk is cheap.” You all will be leaders with the loudest voices, not by all that you say, but what you demonstrate. And that goes for at work and outside of work.
I had a chance to interview the former president and first lady in Haiti. They have been out of the White House for 30 years. He was the commander in chief – no greater leadership position in our country.
President Carter would argue though – that leadership has come in greater ways since. This isn’t about politics or about whether he was a good president or not. He said he realized after leaving the White House that the most powerful way any of us can lead is to serve. So for 30 years that is what they’ve done. And in Haiti – we watched an 88-year-old man and his 85-year-old wife hauling two-by -fours and hammering in hurricane clips by the dozens. They were the first to start working and in the last groups to leave.
And one day Garth Brooks told me that he was taking a little break in the shade and President Carter walked by. He asked, “Are you looking for something Mr. Carter?” Carter answered. “I’m not looking – I’m doing. Let’s get back to work.” The rest of us, when we would be getting tired and hot would watch them work and we’d quickly find our second wind.
Serving IS leading and it inspires others around you to do the same.
Don’t hesitate to do those things at work that others think you shouldn’t have to…and find something outside of work that means something to you. Have a purpose beyond your career and even your close circle of friend and family.
So at our house we have three little ones ages 3-6. When they were just learning to talk we’d ask, “what is being patient?” We taught them to say “waiting with a good attitude”. And as they have gotten older we’ve said – “hey, you’ll have bad days, you’ll make mistakes – but the one thing we aren’t going to tolerate is having a bad attitude.” Then I’ll go to the store or to work and have to challenge myself to follow those same rules.
Attitude is everything.
This summer I spent three-and-a-half weeks in London covering the Olympics.
On a Saturday night I was reporting at the (Aurora) theater shootings. Twenty-four hours later reporting at Tower Bridge. We worked 23 days…no work day was shorter than 20 hours. A couple of those days were 24 hours straight. We hauled our gear and worked faster than we thought possible…and we loved it. We did not complain. There were moments we wanted to but we’d come back to one simple thing.
How could we have a bad attitude about a long day when others were suffering the kind of loss they were in Aurora? We’d wake up – grab a few cups of coffee and remember that we were lucky to be at the Olympics where it was happy and inspiring. Attitude is directly proportional to our perspective.
If we are only thinking about our plan, our life, ourselves – we won’t have perspective.
And boy, are we all getting more of that perspective over the last two weeks as we mourn with Newtown, Connecticut. That Friday I picked up my oldest son from kindergarten. Then went to work to cover a story about the loss of so many children his age.
My first stop was at the office of Rachel’s Challenge. Rachel was the first student killed at Columbine. Her Dad, Darrell, later started this organization that goes all over the world teaching programs in schools and offices about kindness, compassion, and tolerance. Sound simple? Sound too simple to work? Well, at seven schools that they know of police have discovered that after their presentations that students that had been planning violence came forward and asked for help instead of carrying out their plan.
Rachel’s challenge has reached 18 million people and counting. Why did Mr. Scott star this program? He is grateful.
Gratitude is strong: Darrell Scott says the easy path was to be angry and bitter and only thing about himself and his loss. Instead he thought on things his daughter would write in her journal.
She wrote, “If you look hard enough…you can always find some light” Some days we have to look really hard. It’s easy to focus on the bad and finding the good takes some work. That work is worth it.
A wounded warrior from Afghanistan was interviewed recently. He’d been burned over 90 percent of his body. It was a brutal attack. He said –“ I’m so lucky. I am alive.” But he said, “I’m not just alive. I’m lucky in many other ways. I was wearing glasses that protected my eyes. I don’t have anything else left of my face, my ears are gone…but I have my eyes. I can see my children.”
He travels all over now visiting other wounded service members – encouraging them and pushing them to hold onto some gratitude. He has a purpose—he refused not to find a light in the hell all around him. That is inspiring to me.
For those of you who are going into the world of Public Relations of Communications or Journalism: I encourage you to really consider the voice you will have and how you want to use it.
There are a couple of ways that someone could choose to tell that story – or the one about Rachel’s Dad – or Haiti or stories that happen every day. You could focus on the burns and what he’s been through or you can talk about that and also share the greater impact and perspective.
We could have only talked about Rachel’s Dad feeling traumatized again because of a school tragedy – or we can mention that reality and talk about all the good that he has found since “the worst day of his live.” We can share his voice that can encourage others.
Not be sensational – not be unrealistic…but to consider each story and its impact –not for our careers or our image and reputation but for the greater good of the community.
These are service jobs. If we look at it the right way…every profession can be a service profession. That will be more fulfilling than a pay check or any status.
One of my favorite moments on TV was a morning when my son was six weeks old. I had to come back from maternity leave really early. I was exhausted and doing the morning show on about a half hour of sleep. The news open rolled. I said, “Good morning, welcome to 9news. I’m ….I’m” I turned to my co-anchor and said on live television. “I’m so tired I’ve just forgotten my own name.”
To this day, I have parents come up to me and say. I could relate to that. Or the time I had lipstick on my bottom lip on a very serious report…the list goes on and on.
Whatever you do next: have fun. Laugh at yourself. Make a difference, enjoy it! And when something doesn’t go right for you, I hope you’ll remember me forgetting my name, or the kids in Haiti that still laugh and sing, or Rachel’s Dad who can find the good in the world, or that wounded warrior who is just glad he can see.
I’m happy for you all and I’d be excited to hear the things that you’ll all be able to share when you are 18 years removed from this day like I am! Congratulations to you all.