Q&A with Brooke Baldwin, the 2017 spring commencement speaker

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Brooke Baldwin, a CNN Newsroom anchor, will be the commencement speaker for spring graduation.  Photo courtesy of Pamela Gomez.

Brooke Baldwin, a CNN news anchor, will be the 2017 spring commencement speaker. A 2001 graduate of UNC, Baldwin joined CNN in 2008 and became an anchor in 2010. University Editor Acy Jackson spoke with Baldwin about being the speaker and her plans for the speech.

The Daily Tar Heel: What does being selected mean to you?

Brooke Baldwin: So, should I tell you the crazy dance I did when I got the email from Carol Folt? I mean, listen, this is a total bucket list opportunity. Think about it, I was in your shoes ... I graduated in 2001. So imagine, like flash forward 15 years when you do half decently at whatever career you choose, and the University that you are deeply in love with calls you up and tells you they want you at Kenan (Memorial) Stadium to hopefully opine and say something wise to the graduates of 2017. It’s kind of a once-in-a-lifetime situation.

DTH: What do you hope to say with your speech?

BB: First of all, I hope that everyone will have had too many Blue Cups the night before as I might have 15 years ago. Secondly, I think it will be a combination of who I am; I’m not going to assume everyone knows who I am. I think I’ll talk about how Carolina helped create a piece of who I’ve become. And also, I’ll tell some stories along the way ... Anything from running into Donald Trump and Melania and having them offer me Milk Duds at an Adele concert last year, to hanging out with Ice Cube, to, like, massive low points in my career ... my biggest priority is talking to the students. Of course, I love that everybody’s family will be there, but this is a 100 percent shoutout to the guys and gals in the class of 2017.

DTH: How can you bring your life experience to the class of 2017?

BB: Well, I can relate to every single one sitting in those bleachers. I sat there in 2001. I remember that feeling of “Holy bleep, what am I about to go do and see?” I was unique in the sense ... I was in the journalism school ... I had been anchoring Carolina Week. I felt that I was lucky in the sense that I knew in my bones exactly what I wanted to do, I just had to figure out who was going to hire me and where I was going to work. It’s my whole story from starting at Carolina that the seed was planted of journalism and how that then grew into this tree today, through living in different towns where all my friends got to move DC or New York, I was moving to small towns ... It was just a struggle. My twenties were a struggle, but I kept my head down and worked really hard and I want to tell the story of working hard and the ups and the downs. And I also want to talk about the role of journalism, and covering this election and having a front row seat and where I think the media should be in 2017 and, you know, whatever little bits of advice I can give provide both during the speech and anyone who wants to talk to me afterward. You know, I’m there for the students.

DTH: How did your time at UNC influence your career now?

BB: I started at the College of William & Mary and I tell this funny story where I had never been to Chapel Hill until the winter of my sophomore year in college, and I was dropping a girlfriend off and I was a tour guide at my college, and I took a tour of Chapel Hill and this guy, who ended up becoming a dear friend who was a Morehead scholar — we basically snuck in the new journalism school on the quad, like it wasn’t in Carroll Hall until the next year. We totally broke in and I started walking around, like I had an idea I was interested in journalism — I was about to intern at CNN the following summer. But after sort of breaking in the journalism school and walking around it was like, I literally hopped back in my car and drove up 85 and cried. And I called my mother and I had this whole epiphany, and I ended up applying to transfer. And I got in a week later and I went straight to the journalism school and said, “This is what I want to do,” and that was Carolina.

DTH: What was it like having Stuart Scott as your commencement speaker, and how will you use that experience in your own speech?

BB: I know people talk about “Oh, I don’t remember my commencement speaker,” but I absolutely remember Stuart Scott ... It was a moment for me as a 21-year-old in my blue gown I said to myself, “I want to pursue this fascinating career that this man has” — but never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would actually be standing where Stuart Scott stood.

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