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REBECCA JARVIS:
OK, class of 2019. How are we feeling? [APPLAUSE] Well, congratulations
to all of you. I have some good news
and some bad news today. The bad news is
that I’m not here to pay off your student loans. Sorry about that. But the good news is that I’m
confident at least one of you out there today will
be able to make good on that class gift in the
not too distant future. Thank you, Dean Boyer. Thank you, Dean Allison, for
the invitation to speak today. And thank you so much, students,
for having me here to share in your class day celebrations. It’s really an honor,
truly an honor, to be here with all of you. As Sophia mentioned, I graduated
from the University of Chicago in 2003 after
studying law, letters, and society and economics. This campus is where I had
some of the greatest debates and arguments of my life. It’s where my own assumptions
and views were challenged every single day, where I
learned how not what to think, truly one of the greatest
gifts of a U Chicago education. It’s also where I met my
husband and where I made a number of lifelong friends. But 16 years ago
sitting where you are, I still had so many questions. I was free. And I wanted to do big things. But exactly how would
I do those big things? So I come here today with five
hopefully valuable lessons, some more hard-won than
others, that I’ve learned on my post-U Chicago journey. Lesson one, not all good advice
is actually good for you. I cover business
technology and economics as a correspondent at ABC News. And I have a podcast
called No Limits where I interview
trailblazing women about their careers
and the choices that they’ve made along the way. And I close every conversation
with the question, what’s the worst advice
you’ve ever received? Typically, that bad advice
comes from one of three places. First, someone who’s trying
to sabotage you, or maybe it’s someone who doesn’t
understand you, or finally, it’s coming
from someone who loves you. And why would someone who
loves you give you bad advice? Because they are desperately
trying to protect you. Here’s what’s interesting. Most of my guests got the
worst advice of their lives from a person who cared
about them the most. For me, that bad advice
wrapped in good intentions came a year and a half into
my first job out of college. Like a lot of you
probably will be doing, I went into investment banking. [LAUGHTER] Got a laugh, nice. I graduated deep in
student loan debt. The job paid extremely well. And I admittedly wanted to
be a master of the universe. But guess what? Cover your ears if you’re about
to become an investment banking analyst. From day one, I was miserable,
absolutely miserable. I worked around the clock. I never saw my friends. I made tons of mistakes and
got yelled at all the time. Prepare yourselves. I spent countless hours
a day analyzing data on such scintillating
topics as regional trends in yogurt consumption. That’s real. I’d often sit at
my desk and dream about what it might take
to get a minor but severe enough injury to put me in
the hospital for a while so I wouldn’t have
to go to work. I wasn’t just unhappy, I
was hungry for something different– journalism. I’d written for the Maroon
and was editor-in-chief of my high school newspaper. My mom’s a journalist. My grandfather was a journalist. And I didn’t know it yet,
but my future husband, who was also a student here
at the University of Chicago, had been a copy editor at the
now defunct Chicago Weekly News. All signs pointed
me to journalism. Except when I told my parents
and a lot of family friends that I wanted to quit
to become a reporter, they were horrified. Everyone I trusted and
loved advised me not to leave the security
of investment banking. This was 2005 when a career in
banking looked like a safe bet before the financial crisis. When I ultimately made
the decision to quit, I was petrified but
also exhilarated. No more yogurt analysis. I told myself I had two years
to figure out journalism. I’d saved up enough to
pay off my student loans. And worst case scenario, I’d go
to school, go back to school, or find another job. When I gave my two weeks notice,
most my colleagues looked at me like I was headed for disaster. And I wasn’t sure
they were wrong. But the moment I left the
building, I never looked back. Yes, it took a while
before others could see I made the right call. But today, as some of my
greatest professional joys are now because I went
against the advice of well-intentioned
people back then. So how did I ultimately
become a journalist? More on that in a moment. But first, lesson two,
the University of Chicago is a little bit
quirky, and so are you. Embrace it. I remember my first days
in Hyde Park thinking to myself of the student
body, these people are totally brilliant, totally
fascinating, and totally weird. I loved that about the
University of Chicago. But when I got into the
working world among peers with more traditional degrees
in business and accounting, I was admittedly intimidated. We didn’t have those
professional degrees as undergrads at the
U of C. The same thing happened again
post-investment banking when I began going
after reporting jobs. I’d spend day after day
applying on websites to roles that called for
communications majors and journalism experience. They were two things
I didn’t really have. 45 rejections later, I realized
I had to change my strategy. I was burying my interests
and my unique background in business, constitutional
law, and economics. And I was wasting
precious time trying to play up the small amount of
journalism experience I had. It wasn’t until
I started leading with what made me different
from other candidates that things began to click. I started calling up
business editors in Chicago and asking them out for coffee. I stopped worrying about the
ones who didn’t respond or told me they didn’t have the time
and instead focused on those who were willing to meet. Our conversations were
unstructured, but in the end, I would always pitch them
a few stories based on what I’d seen in investment banking. I’d share questions about
things that I’d seen that didn’t seem to add up. No, I didn’t have a
journalism degree. What I had was curiosity,
a desire to dig deeper, a will to keep at it,
and I had story ideas, ideas they could print
in tomorrow’s paper if they let me write them. Suddenly, my
unconventional background became an asset
rather than a deficit. Crain’s Chicago
Business and a magazine called Business 2.0
both took a chance and let me begin
writing for them. No matter what your
ultimate career goal, you’re bound at some point to
come up against the doubters. Your background might not
fit the exact requirements in the job description. Remember who you are. Remember what drove you to this
quirky, special place called the University of Chicago,
what you learned here through your mandatorily
broad education. You can talk about anything. You have a foundation
to attack any problem. You may not have every answer. But you absolutely know how to
ask the right questions because of U Chicago. Use that gift. Lesson three, you’re going
to feel like a loser. For those of you who haven’t
seen my Wikipedia page, I actually was a loser on
national TV on a show called The Apprentice. I know this is the University
of Chicago and all. But I assume you’ve heard of
it, at least at this point. As a kid, I always said I
wanted to be the president. Little did I know I’d
end up on a reality show with our future president. Shortly after The
Apprentice aired, I got a call from CNBC,
the Business News Network. They were intrigued by my
background in journalism and investment banking. They offered me a six-month
sink or swim deal. I had half a year to prove
myself or I’d be out the door. This was my dream job. All I wanted to do was
live up to the expectations of the people who’d
taken a chance on me. But the first thing
I learned at CNBC was that I was
terrible at my job. I mean, truly awful. The minute I’d get
in front of a camera, my mind would go
completely blank. I couldn’t move except
for my shaking hands. I could read a book but
not the teleprompter. My mouth would go
completely dry. Have you ever watched a
seemingly endless story about gas prices from a
reporter with cotton mouth? It was cringe-worthy. And the time to prove
myself was running out. One day, my boss came by
my desk with an assignment. Martha Stewart had recently
gotten out of prison. She’d be at an event. I should go yell a few questions
at her on the red carpet and ask her how it
felt to be free. OK, I thought to myself. Shouting at a powerful person? The University of Chicago
prepared me perfectly for this role. Thankfully, I was also wearing
my favorite turquoise power suit. Nice. So I show up at the red
carpet with my camera crew ready to go. And here’s how it works. Every news outlet
gets a tiny spot. You’re basically
shoulder to shoulder with the person next to you. And you’re stuck. You cannot move
from this position. You have a few seconds
to make it count as you shout those questions. So I see Martha
walking up to me. She’s calm, cool, and collected,
perfection personified. My adrenaline’s flowing. We lock eyes. I open my mouth. Nothing comes out. Literally nothing comes out. I stare at her open-mouthed
like a total lunatic, crazy, staring at her
face, thinking only of how angry my boss is going
to be with me that I forgot my one and only question
I needed to ask her, and two, for some
reason thinking about how to throw the
perfect clambake on Cape Cod. By the time I remember
my words, M. Diddy, that was apparently
Martha’s nickname in prison, has moved on. Now I am yelling at the back
of her perfectly coiffed head, how does it feel
to be free, Martha? No response. In my desperation, I can
think of no other option than to break from my spot. My job is on the line. Microphone in hand,
tripping over cords and bumping into
the reporter next to me, I take off
after Martha, repeating my one and only question,
how does it feel to be free? Not only is she still
completely ignoring me, but as it turns out, I am
now completely blocking her from the cameras in my
turquoise power suit. Then come the angry roars. Every reporter and crew
whose shot I’ve ruined starts yelling at
me, yelling things I can’t repeat here today. In the end, I get nothing. And as I head back
to the office, I’m feeling, like I said in
lesson three, like a loser. I failed. What will my boss say? Well, he thought the
whole thing was hilarious, told everyone in
the newsroom, which made me feel like an
even bigger loser. In the end, it’s not like he was
happy I didn’t get the story. I might have made
a fool of myself. But he respected me for trying
and gave me another shot. And eventually, I did
figure things out, got to stay at CNBC,
went on to CBS News, and now am with ABC News. I’ve had a front row seat
to the great recession, the fall of Lehman
Brothers, the Bernie Madoff trial, Facebook’s Cambridge
Analytica scandal, and the rise of Amazon. And in a career highlight, I was
part of our election night 2016 coverage for ABC News and
sat across and with some of my journalist
heroes, something I dreamed of doing
as a student here at the University of Chicago
watching the returns in 2000 from my dorm room
at the Shoreland. And let’s be honest. I still feel like
a loser at times. Everyone does. But so what? We’re human. We move on to greater things
and better power suits. Lesson four, ignore
the end game. You may not know where
something’s going to lead. You may not even have a goal. You might just be curious. You should still do it. Here’s what I’m talking about. A few years ago, I became
obsessed with a story about a woman named
Elizabeth Holmes. She dropped out of
Stanford to start a company called Theranos. She said she wanted to change
the world with a new type of blood testing. And for a moment, it
looked like she might. She was celebrated
as the youngest female self-made billionaire,
the next Steve Jobs. I was captivated. But when I first pitched
covering her in a podcast, my bosses weren’t
quite as passionate. Podcasts were a medium we hadn’t
fully explored yet at ABC News. Plus, there was that
big election, 2016. And it was taking up all
the oxygen in the room. So I started pursuing the
story of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos in
the same way I took a number of elective
courses here at the University of
Chicago, purely because I was fascinated by the material. I’d do my daily reports for Good
Morning America and World News Tonight. And on my own time, I’d dig a
little deeper into Theranos. For three years, my team and I
worked mostly below the radar with little attention
paid to our pet project. Then came the criminal fraud
charges against Elizabeth. She pleaded not guilty but was
facing up to 20 years in prison if convicted for misleading
investors, doctors, and the public about
her technology. Her $10 billion company
became worthless overnight. The media was suddenly
very interested. And so were my bosses. Their indifference had
transformed into an insatiable appetite for more. And my team and I had the
whole thing ready to go, more than 100 interviews,
thousands of pages of never before aired depositions
with Elizabeth, her COO, and many of the
powerful board members like former Secretary of State
George Shultz and Wells Fargo CEO Dick Kovacevich. The podcast, which we
called The Dropout, surpassed all expectations. It soared to number one
on the Apple charts, has more than 13 million
downloads and counting, and now Fox Searchlight
is adapting it into a Hulu original with Kate
McKinnon from Saturday Night Live playing Elizabeth Holmes. Remember, all of this came
from an idea I initially couldn’t get anyone in my office
to listen to, an idea I wanted to pursue mostly for
the enjoyment of it. It wasn’t especially strategic. But the work was
extraordinarily fulfilling. All the success, and
I mean this sincerely, is just icing on the cake. As you carve your
own path, don’t forget to do things for
the simple joy of it. And speaking of joy,
there’s a lot of it ahead. But as someone who falls down
the Instagram rabbit hole from time to time, I think it’s
important to tell you likes don’t equal love, lesson five. AUDIENCE: Woo! REBECCA JARVIS:
Someone liked it. [LAUGHTER] I read a stat a while ago
about the average Facebook user having 400 friends
but just five people they could really call
on in an emergency. Focus on your five. I’m not saying we should
ditch social media altogether. I’ll probably post about
this day on Instagram later. I’m just reminding you
that consuming too many of those empty
social calories can be as detrimental
to your insides as whatever habits you
picked up during finals week. The lesson isn’t based
on scientific evidence– I’m sorry to be so un-U of C– just my own field observations. You’re welcome,
anthropology majors. For all the hashtag
wisdom that exists in the palm of your
hand, don’t forget what you learned here the hard way. Remember the friendships,
the late night debates in your dorm room, and
the French toast at Salonica. You had to be present
to enjoy all of that. The surface of the earth
is nearly 200 million square miles. Don’t confine your life
to a six inch screen. And finally, remember
the ticket you now have in your pocket, your
University of Chicago education, the most precious
and valuable gift that you have paid for with your
time and energy and potentially a couple
thousand IOUs to the bank. This gift will truly take
you anywhere if you let it. Now is your time. You must go. Thank you. [APPLAUSE]

2 thoughts on “Rebecca Jarvis addresses University of Chicago graduates at Class Day ceremony

  1. Not meaning to detract from her achievements and career but Rebecca Jarvis clearly won the genetic lottery. Not only is she one of the smartest and most beautiful women alive but she is also charming, engaging and doing something positive in the realm of journalism, an industry destroyed by mediocrity and the Internet.

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