She confidently strolled into The Knoll wearing heels that made my calves hurt at the thought and chatting like she had known her driver for years. She exuded a presence that immediately put the room of freshmen at ease—and if it’s been awhile since your college years, let me remind you that’s no small feat.
“I wish I had been less afraid of not getting good grades, and more exploratory throughout college,” Juju Chang, Emmy award-winning journalist and ABC “Nightline” news anchor, told the new college attendees.
As she moved from topics that ranged from her fascination of emotional intelligence to her adoration of Pope Francis, her hands gestured with every sentence, as if words did no justice to the important messages she was trying to convey.
After transitioning from a nationally ranked swimmer at age 12 to a “has-been” at age 16, Chang threw herself into academics and extracurricular activities. While she initially majored in engineering in college as an aspiring Steve Jobs, Chang admitted to receiving a score of 27 percent on her first physics exam while simultaneously falling in love with a political science class – a semester that led to her switch into the latter major.
At Chang’s insistence, the students took turns asking questions, from her most interesting interview (“For you guys, I would say Nicki Minaj”) to an inquiry into her appreciation of all human beings as individuals.
“Talent will get you places,” she expressed. “But at some point, you need to learn to make nice with people.”
As the sun began to cast an evening glow over the room, Chang leaned over and turned on the lamp on the end table next to her.
“It’s a daily, hourly struggle,” she replied honestly to the young girl’s question on balancing three kids, a husband and a full time career.
Chang spoke on her long distance relationship from San Francisco to New York City during her engagement, and then from Washington, D.C. during their first year of marriage. She touched on the baseball games that get missed during her trips around the world, and of her desire for her sons to learn to do things for themselves, and not for their parents’ approval.
“It’s the hardest thing I do – to balance.”
In the weeks before the 8th annual Chamberlin Lecture, the Greenlee School was buzzing. In fact, since the Twitter announcement last January that ABC News “Nightline” co-anchor and Emmy Award winner Juju Chang was the 2015 lecturer, professional and amateur journalists alike on Iowa State University’s campus eagerly anticipated her arrival.
Chang’s professional endeavors as a reporter, political correspondent, news anchor, and resilient advocate for women and equality have kept her on network television for 28 years (“I use a fantastic anti-aging cream.”) Chang also credits her strong family (her parents immigrated from Seoul, South Korea) for her success.
Raluca Cozma, associate professor, chair of the Greenlee School diversity committee and advisory board member of The Archives of Women’s Political Communication in the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics, was especially enthusiastic to see Chang’s influence on young ISU female journalists.
“Her example shows that it doesn’t matter where you come from, but that if you apply yourself and ask the right questions, you can set out to make a difference,” explained Cozma.
“Good evening!” Chang welcomed the audience while gliding toward the podium. “I’m surprised to see so many people here on a school night just to hear a girl talk for an hour.” This, from the woman who just the day before had a casual sit down with Tom Hanks and Stephen Spielberg.
Over the next hour, Chang explored topics centered around her speech, “The Presidential Campaign – A Search for Meaning.” She spoke on the perception of journalists in today’s society, encouraging others to think of them as our nation’s watchdogs instead of paparazzi and stalkers, as well as the political bubble that Iowans find themselves every four years.
Chang spent most of the evening discussing recent controversies between presidential candidates and analyzing leadership differences between them.
“We have so demonized the idea of being a politician, that 51 percent of Republicans want to give outsiders a shot,” Chang guffawed. “It’s the only job where it’s considered good to have no experience actually doing the job – and it’s arguably the most powerful position in the world.”
So what do we truly want from our leaders? Chang questioned.
Pope Francis, she pointed out, is wildly popular, universally viewed as a man of integrity, and 60 percent of Americans consider themselves “Francis Fans.”
“His leadership qualities are what people are looking for in a leader,” she contended.
If she was fazed by the line of students that trailed to the back of the room after she concluded her lecture, all wanting their fifteen seconds of face time, she sure didn’t show it. If the thought of her 6 a.m. flight the next morning ever crossed her mind, it wasn’t ever apparent in her conversations or in her contemplation of an invitation to end the night at Taco Tuesday.
As the cleanup crew began clattering and folding chairs and some straggling students grabbed the final few cookies, Chang made her way over to the bags she had set against the wall. She slung them over her shoulder and finished up a conversation with some young women as she made her way out the double doors. Six hours later, nothing had changed.
She wrapped up their discussion as if she were saying goodbye to old friends, while my calves continued to empathetically throb as she walked off campus in those same, confident strides that she arrived at Iowa State with.