Who Mentored Gwen Ifill?
Gwen Ifill was an American Peabody Award-winning journalist, television newscaster, and author. On television, she was moderator and managing editor of “Washington Week” and, along with Judy Woodruff, co-anchor and co-managing editor of “PBS NewsHour,” which segued from an earlier role as senior correspondent for “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.”
Before coming to PBS, she spent five years at NBC News as chief congressional and political correspondent. A veteran journalist, Ifill joined NBC News from The New York Times where she covered the White House and politics. She also covered national and local affairs for The Washington Post, Baltimore Evening Sun, and Boston Herald American.
The most important lesson I was taught was the lesson of possibility, and that was taught to me by my parents. I knew I wanted to be a journalist; I knew I wanted to be a journalist since I was in elementary school. When I got to college I had a college professor at Simmon’s College in Boston named Alden Poole. He worked for years at newspapers in Boston and he would simply show up in class and tell us stories about the newsroom, which to me was incredibly romantic–the idea of what happens in a newsroom and how news gets covered.
Here is a crusty guy teaching at a women’s college, teaching us about how to function in a newsroom but not putting any limitations on how we should function. And it was because of him that I had my idea of newspapering, and my love of newspapering confirmed, that this was a place where I could do this. He helped me get my internship that led to my first job which was at the Boston Herald American, his old newspaper; which, even though this was the 70’s, it was a newspaper which was a throwback to the front page, with lots of old guys…old white guys, frankly, who’d never seen anything like me–a college-educated black woman. And they didn’t know how to deal with me. And I had Alden Poole in my head saying, “Ah, you can do it. Just go in there and show ’em, give ’em what for.” And because he didn’t put those limitations on me that I was talking about, and because it was always demonstrated what the possibilities were, I felt the echo throughout my career.
Along the way at these corners that you turn in life, there are people, if you’re fortunate, who can nudge you in a direction, or urge you to be courageous, and that, to me, is the essence of what mentoring is.
The ideal is to have older people sharing with younger people what they’ve already learned and younger people sharing right back, and telling them what it is that they don’t know. I never am more stimulated than when I’m in a room with someone who is younger who can tell me something that I don’t know.
What young people want is to have someone listen to them, to listen to their aspirations, not to judge them, not to tell them why they can’t do it– often that’s their parents who will do that for them! From you, they want a sense of possibility. And that’s what a good mentor does–gives you a sense of everything that’s possible for you, not only with their own example, but also with their faith in you.