Longtime NPR newscaster Ann Taylor urged graduates to "be smart, but also take a chance" in her commencement address at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, on Friday. (Contributed)
KNOXVILLE—Longtime NPR newscaster Ann Taylor urged graduates to "be smart, but also take a chance" in her commencement address at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, on Friday.
Taylor, who graduated from UT with a degree in English in 1958, anchored NPR's national newscasts within "All Things Considered" from 1989 until July of 2011. She was part of the team during NPR News' coverage of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and their aftermath. That work earned several honors.
Taylor spoke at the College of Arts and Sciences commencement and offered graduates a laundry list of advice, which she called "Ann Taylor-isms."
"Be serious, but also have fun," she said. "Be steady in your moral compass, but also be open to new ideas.
"Travel as much as you can. By expanding your horizons and seeing what others think and feel, you learn more about the world and more about yourself.
"Much of life, when it comes to business and professional opportunities, may be luck— but be ready and prepared for that opportunity, when it occurs.
"And, have a sense of humor — especially about yourself."
Taylor told graduates that her career began in Knoxville "when one day I summoned up my courage and walked into the offices of WATE and asked for a job.
"I doubt you could do that these days," she said. "It turned out they did have an opening, in writing commercials. I later learned the program director predicted I would not last six weeks, but I did. "
In time, she moved to WATE's news department, where she did a recorded — and then later, live — midday radio newscast. Next she moved in front of the TV camera, reporting and eventually anchoring.
During those early years, she kept sending videotapes and resumes to Washington, and got lots of rejections.
"The best one is framed and hanging on my wall," she said. "It reads in part, 'It is our considered opinion that you are not ready for CBS News or that CBS News is not quite ready for you.'
"Years later, I would end up in the news division at NBC, where the writer of that letter became a president of the news division. He's a very nice man, and I never told him about the letter."
Taylor made it to Washington when she landed a job at an all-news radio station, WTOP. She also worked for WTOP television.
Prior to going to NPR, she spent 15 years at NBC Radio, where she covered national political conventions, the resignation of former President Richard Nixon and the activities leading up to the Watergate trial, the return to the American hostages from Iran, and the royal wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer.
It was not all smooth sailing — but that's part of life, she said.
Recalling her dad's pep talk after she lost a TV anchoring job, she advised the graduates, "When those disappointments and setbacks come, it's all right to allow yourself to feel sorry for yourself for a short time … but then put it aside and move ahead."
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Taylor was on her weekly commute, flying from New York to Washington, to do her NPR show.
"Most of us remember where we were that day, don't we? That's another reminder that you never know in life — except to expect the unexpected. We never know where circumstances may take us. And I firmly believe that a good education helps us meet and deal with the unexpected."
Born in Johnson City, Taylor moved with her family to Knoxville in 1949 when her father was appointed as a federal judge by President Harry S. Truman. She attended Sweet Briar College in Virginia before moving back to Knoxville and transferring to UT for her senior year.
"I was, I think, the oldest pledge on campus," she said. Her sorority was Chi Omega.
She recalls her UT classes being difficult, but said she enjoyed her time on campus and is proud to be a Vol.
"I believe so strongly in a liberal arts education. With a liberal arts degree, you can do anything," said Taylor, who received a Notable Woman Award from UT in 1996.
Since retiring from NPR in 2011, Taylor has continued to live in New York City and is trying her hand at a new career — doing voiceover work for commercials and other projects.