‘Make sure when the curtain comes down, that you’re exhausted’
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Kathy Best humorously indulged herself, as she pulled out her iPhone before her commencement speech, to capture UIS’ 42nd annual commencement ceremony. From a reporter for the Quad-City Times, to the Managing Editor of The Seattle Times, Best’s passion for journalism is evident, and with good reason. The two-time Pulitzer Prize honoree helped earn the prize for breaking news in 2010 and investigative reporting in 2012, to which she modestly accredits to her “remarkable staff.”
Chancellor Susan Koch credited Best during her introduction as being one of the first alums to be inducted into the UIS Public Affairs Reporting Hall of Fame.
Best found her passion for journalism at a young age. Inspired and influenced by her parents, who bought a weekly newspaper in Sullivan, Ill., she explained that she grew up with conversations around the dinner table that were always interesting to her – current affairs, public affairs, government and politics. She said, “When I realized that other people didn’t get that, it was one of the things that made me want to be a journalist.”
After graduating in 1979 from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Best acquired an interest in government reporting, and soon after found the Public Affairs Reporting (PAR) program at UIS. “I thought, ‘wow this is great, I get a degree, I get to learn more, and I get a full-time internship’…” The UIS alumna received her master’s in Public Affairs Reporting in 1990, where she says she found everything she was looking for at the time, during an all too familiar job recession.
“The other influence, who continues to be an influence, who taught me what it meant to be, not just a good journalist but also a good boss, was Mike Lawrence. Mike was the Bureau Chief at the Lee Enterprises Bureau and I was his intern when I was in the PAR program. He helped me channel my inner outrage when public officials wouldn’t answers questions, and I was entitled to the answers,” said Best.
Through long hours and hard work, Best has become an influence in her own way. “Kathy is one of the finest journalists I’ve known in three decades of working in the newspaper business, and one of the finest human beings,” said David Boardman, Executive Editor and Senior Vice President of The Seattle Times. “Kathy is whip-smart and steel-tough, unafraid to take on powerful people and institutions. Yet she has a gentle, tender nature that ensures we’re always sensitive to story subjects and readers, and that we do no unnecessary harm.” He went on to say that although Best has grown to be a “web-footed Northwesterner,” she is, and always will be a proud Illinoisan, and that she was thrilled and humbled to have the opportunity to address UIS.
Best stressed that yes, for some, it is a breeze getting to where they want to be, but for others it isn’t, and that’s okay. “It took me a while. I floundered around for a couple of years trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up,” said Best. In her address she added, “What you’re getting today is a college degree, not a life sentence to do only what that diploma says. This should be the beginning of your quest, not the end.”
She went on to explain that although some barriers will come and will get in the way of where you want to be, often times, individuals themselves are their own barriers. She said that she had to look hard at what she already had done, and look harder at what she wanted to do and “gave [herself] permission to do it.”
Best closed her address to the graduating class saying, “Know that this is it, your one shot [at life]. Give it everything you’ve got. Make sure when the curtain comes down, that you’re exhausted. That you’ve rung every last drop of joy, and wonder, and pain, and awe from life. Find your passion and live it.”