Turning the tables: Cento staff interviews journalist David Brooks
When New York Times journalist David Brooks entered the Davidson Room in Carnegie Hall on campus last week to talk to a group of student-newspaper staff members, all of the students rose to greet him.
“Sit down,” he said, as he looked around a little sheepishly. “I’m not the president.” Everyone laughed and took their seats.
Brooks spoke last week to a packed audience in Newlin Hall for Centre College’s annual Press Distinguished Lecture series, named in honor of Kentucky civic leaders O. Leonard and Lillian H. Press. In between talking to members of the College’s Board of Trustees, who were on campus for their annual spring meeting, and delivering his Press Lecture to the public, Brooks took the time to have a casual chat with eight staff members of Centre’s student-produced newspaper, The Cento.
It was clear by the faces of these budding journalists and media professionals that they were delighted to be part of a rare opportunity to chat intimately with someone so successful in their field. Brooks has been a New York Timescolumnist since 2003 and also serves as a commentator on PBS’ The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. He is a frequent analyst on NPR’s “All Things Considered” and the “Diane Rehm Show.” In addition, he’s been a senior editor at The Weekly Standard and a contributing editor atNewsweek and Atlantic Monthly. He also worked at The Wall Street Journal for nine years.
The students comfortably settled into asking the man who has been called “one of the most influential opinion-makers in the world” questions about a variety of subjects.
Marla Sweitzer ’11, a studio art major from Sarasota, Fla., and also The Cento’s editor-in-chief, asked Brooks: What advice and words of wisdom do you have for students currently in college?
Brooks, without hesitation, passed along a tip he learned from interviewing professors on the subject.
“Study abroad,” he stated. “Nothing else is guaranteed to change your life.”
The students nodded and smiled in agreement, because this is something they already know: more than 85 percent of Centre students study abroad in nearly 40 countries on every continent except Antarctica. These eight particular students have studied in six different countries: France, China, England, Cameroon, Vietnam and Cambodia.
In fact, Centre’s study abroad program is ranked among the nation’s top three, with residential semester programs in China, England, France, Japan, Mexico, Northern Ireland and Spain. Students also study in Australia, Barbados, Cameroon, Greece, India, Israel, New Zealand and Peru, just to name a few.
Sweitzer said: “To have been able to ask Brooks about relevant issues facing college students was enlightening.”
Brooks, who is a supporter of a liberal arts higher education, also advocated something else Centre students are very familiar with: “Be aggressive in getting to know your professors,” he advised. “You might not remember what they teach, but you’ll remember how they are.” Centre professors are famous for inviting students into their homes for dinner and conversation, chatting at coffee shops, and playing basketball together.
Brooks also encouraged the Centre students to try enough things in order to discover their true professional goals.
“Graduate with some sense of what really arouses your passion,” he advised.
Tess Simon ’12, Cento news editor and an English and French double major from Lexington, Ky., said that she would have loved even more time with Brooks in order to “soak in as much of his knowledge as possible.”
“His views on a liberal arts education reaffirmed in my mind the decision to come to Centre,” Simon said. “He noted that while universities that teach to the job seem artificially more important, a liberal arts education provides you with the tools to succeed in life, both personally and on a job.”
Elizabeth Trollinger ’11, a history and English double major from Danville, recalled a story Brooks shared about his time with William F. Buckley, Jr., and the lesson he learned about college newspapers.
Brooks was the opinion editor at the University of Chicago’s campus newspaper. During his junior year, because he was “young and a smart-aleck,” he wrote a parody of William F. Buckley, Jr.’s book Overdrive.
“It was kind of mean,” Brooks laughed. Then Buckley came to campus for a talk, and during his talk, Buckley said, “David Brooks, if you’re in the audience, I want to give you a job.”
“And that was the big break of my life,” Brooks told the students. He then passed on to them a bit of advice Buckley had given him: “Being editor of a school newspaper is the only time everyone will care about what you have to say.” Trollinger, the Cento managing editor, said Brooks’ story made her feel proud of her involvement with the newspaper.
“The fact that he was here at Centre, and willing to meet with all of us Cento staffers, was a great way to top off the end of my Cento career!” Trollinger said.