Spring 2023 Chubb Fellow: Anderson Cooper

Photo: by alexander laurent rubalcava for The Yale Globalist


By alexander laurent rubalcava


On 10 April 2023, journalist Anderson Cooper returned to his alma mater as the Spring 2023 Chubb Fellow. The Chubb Fellowship, awarded each semester by Timothy Dwight College, is Yale’s highest honor for a visiting lecturer. A stalwart in American journalism, he graduated from Yale in 1989 and over the course of the last three decades has become renowned for his coverage of disasters and war zones, most notably his coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. During the lecture portion of the two part event, Anderson discussed his life and career with Mary Lui, Head of Timothy Dwight College, “I was driven by this idea of loss and survival, so even if I didn’t plan on becoming a reporter, I wanted to go places where the language of loss was spoken…I wanted to understand it…I found when I got to some places an odd ability to operate in these environments. In some ways it was more comfortable than being back home.” Having lost his father at the age of 10 and his brother at the age of 23, Anderson was no stranger to grief and loss from an early age. His sympathy would become the driving force in his work, highlighted with an anecdote that Jimmy Hatch (TD, ’23) shared as he introduced Anderson at both the lecture and the dinner. In it, Hatch described seeing Anderson shelter and protect a child while reporting from the front lines of a war zone. He said of Anderson, “That’s something you’re either born with or not, you can’t train somebody to be that thoughtful in the middle of an emergency.”

What struck myself and others most about Anderson was his eagerness to engage with the students at Timothy Dwight. His nomination was not about him, nor was he there to be paraded about. Anderson was there to hear from us–the student body. At the dinner, immediately relinquished any time he had to speak and immediately opened the floor to questions from students. Student questions ran the gamut from questions about his mother’s eclectic collections—including love letters from Frank Sinatra (“They were exactly what you’d hope for in a note from Frank Sinatra”)—to rising polarization and the rampant rise in published falsehoods and misinformation in the media. His advice was thoughtful and calm: be present, don’t worry about things that are out of your control; if people don’t want to listen, you can’t make them; all you can do is be honest. He is a manifestation of his own advice. Even when answers seemed cliché (which he would acknowledge and laugh at himself), they were genuine. The dinner ended when Head Lui called time because the TD kitchen staff had to clean the dining hall. After the event he hung around for the better part of an hour signing autographs, taking selfies, and chatting with students. Eventually it was Head Lui, and not Anderson, who had to try to usher him out of the room, albeit unsuccessfully. He stuck around signing autographs and talking to students until the last people had left.

There are not many times when you meet an individual whose presence (as in being present) is immediately felt. It would be easy to assume the child of American royalty and a television persona would be disconnected and self-absorbed—after all, so many are. That was, delightfully, not the case here. He was kind enough to allow me to make a portrait of him right there on the floor of the TD dining hall. Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to ask him a question during the Q&A as time was cut short, so hopefully he has a chance to read it here:

When we turn on or read the news, we are met with messages and images of chaos and destruction all around the world. It is easy to lose hope and become pessimistic—or even cynical—about the future. You’re a father now, and I have no doubt that you think constantly about the future that your sons will grow up in. While I suspect there are things that frighten you, what do you look forward to with eager anticipation?

If one thing can be taken from Anderson’s presence on campus that evening, it is that although we are in frightening and tenuous times, it is incumbent upon us to be present and to engage with the world in good faith. It is only through honesty that we can push against the onslaught of uncertainty and falsities. Listening to Anderson speak renewed my faith in this fundamental idea, and I have no doubt that it will be the guiding light that leads us through the darkness.

Alexander laurent rubalcava is a second-year Eli Whitney Student in Timothy Dwight College and can be reached at alexander.rubalcava@yale.edu