John Quiñones inspires with his message of struggle and resilience

Friday, November 15, 2013 2:00:00 PM

by Paige Quiñones, ’14 

On Oct. 24, John Quiñones, the seven-time Emmy Award-winning ABC News correspondent and anchor of the series “What Would You Do?,” came to speak to students, faculty, staff, and alumni as part of the Kendall Lecture Series. Quiñones talked about growing up in poverty and his rise as an award-winning journalist. He also spoke of “everyday heroes," ordinary people who make extraordinary choices.

John Q. (final)

Being a female Mexican-American (who happens also to share our speaker’s last name), I found myself captivated by Quiñones’ life story of struggle and triumph. From his jobs shining shoes with his cousin to working long hours in a convenience store to help support his family, Quiñones told us about his family's economic struggles.

What stuck with me the most was when he shared his story about being on his knees in cold soil with his father picking tomatoes at 35 cents a basket. One day his father, who was laid off at the time, asked him, “Do you want to pick tomatoes all your life with your child or do you want to go to college?”

Quiñones knew he didn't want to spend his whole life on his knees picking tomatoes, but instead wanted to use education as a way to create opportunities for him and his future family. He set his sights on a career in journalism, but he struggled with learning English and losing his accent. He looked to Geraldo Rivera, another young Mexican-American who had established himself as a successful journalist.

After high school, Quiñones joined the Upward Bound program through St. Mary’s University. The program specialized in prepping students for college. Following his graduation from St. Mary’s he went on to earn a master’s degree in journalism at Columbia University. In 1982, Quiñones started his first correspondent assignment with ABC News. Thirty-two years later, he is regarded as one of the nation’s top journalists.

Known for making waves in Mexican immigration, testing people's integrity, and standing up for human rights, Quiñones' greatest professional impact didn't come from interviewing big names in world politics and entertainment. Instead, his main focus became giving a voice to those affected by tragedy and oppression.

The quote in Quiñones’ talk that moved me the most was, “Don't worry about talking to the movers and the shakers, but talk to those that have been moved and shaken.” This quote will stick with me forever because of its message of what it means to be a truly compassionate listener. Quiñones’ career doesn't revolve around interviewing huge names, but giving a voice to those who have been silenced. He uses his talent and celebrity as a way to help those that don't have the ability to speak for themselves. As a senior about to graduate and begin my own career, this was powerful advice because I know that I will be in a position someday where I will be the voice for not only myself but others.

Having Quiñones appear at Stritch was a tremendous opportunity for me. When I looked around the conference center, I felt surprised by the diversity of his fan base. There were many students my age that I never would have guessed followed Quiñones and his work along with faculty, staff, and alumni. Seeing the conference center filled gave me a sense of unity and pride in our university for bringing together so many different people. I think this was an important moment for Stritch. As a Franciscan institution, one of our main goals is to establish a caring community, which I felt we addressed during the Kendall Lecture Series this fall. As a Mexican-American, it was a proud moment for me to be in the presence of and listen to one of the most influential Latinos in the United States.