Katie Couric speaks at alumni event

About 2,000 people attended the Alumni Association celebration.

by Adam Daniels

Sitting at the end of a table in a WCCO-TV conference room, Katie Couric took a deep breath before reflecting on her infamous interview with Sarah Palin.

âÄúI wasnâÄôt really sure what kind of impact it would have,âÄù Couric said. âÄúI really wanted to focus on asking good questions and making sure that if she didnâÄôt answer them I politely persisted.âÄù

Couric left the anchor desk to deliver the keynote speech at the University of Minnesota Alumni Association 106th Annual Celebration on Saturday. About 2,000 alumni, students and faculty attended the celebration in Mariucci Arena. 1,200 guests paid $20 to $30 to have dinner beforehand, while the other 800 guests paid $10 to attend the speech.

Shortly after taking the stage, Couric told the students in the audience, âÄúI was going to go to The Library for âÄòWhite Trash Wednesday,âÄô but I left my fanny pack at home, so that really couldnâÄôt happen.âÄù While she read off a teleprompter, Couric was able to keep her tone fresh and casual. She peppered her speech with a litany of quotes from colleagues, proverbs and statesmen, and talked about what she learned from trying times throughout her life, including when she began her tenure in her current position.

âÄúAccording to the critics, I couldnâÄôt do anything right. From the white jacket I wore on the first night âĦ to my makeup, to the way I held my hands on the anchor desk, to the stories we did,âÄù Couric said. âÄúI had to tell myself, âÄòYouâÄôre good at your job, you have something to offer and who the hell do these people think they are anyhow?âÄô âÄù

Before the celebration, Couric stopped by WCCO-TV to record promotions with anchorwoman Amelia Santaniello and anchorman Frank Vascellaro and sat down for interviews with Don Shelby, WCCO Radio, Minnesota magazine and The Minnesota Daily.

âÄúYou know, college students have helped teach me about social networking,âÄù Couric said. âÄúSo itâÄôs something I try to keep up with and be a part of, because I donâÄôt want to be left in the dust.âÄù

Susan Adams Loyd, WCCO-TVâÄôs general manager, Alumni Association board member and a personal friend of Couric, was instrumental in getting the anchorwoman to the annual meeting. âÄúWeâÄôve been trying to get Katie Couric for years,âÄù Alumni Association National Board President Archie Givens said. âÄúWhen Susan joined the board in 2009, we immediately challenged her to get Katie.âÄù

Despite the ailing economy, various members of the Alumni Association âÄî including University President Bob Bruininks âÄî took the opportunity to acknowledge the achievements made in 2009. âÄúEven in the current economy, we continue to attract approximately $700 million annually in competitive grants and contracts,âÄù Bruininks said. âÄúOur national and international profile in interdisciplinary fields is diverse and continues to attract funding and world-class scholars.âÄù A video featured the opening of TCF Bank Stadium, which received the loudest applause from the audience, and mentioned how the association hit an all-time record with nearly 60,000 members.

Later, Givens introduced the associationâÄôs national board executive committee, including new CEO Phil Esten. Instead of taking a speakerâÄôs fee, Couric requested the money be directly donated to National Colorectal Cancer Research Alliance, which she co-founded. A major part of her speech was how she lost her husband to colon cancer in 1998 and her sister to pancreatic cancer in 2001. Since then, she has been an advocate for cancer research, even going as far as having an on-air colonoscopy in 2000. After that, colonoscopy screenings went up 20 percent, Couric said in her speech, which led one university to dub it âÄúThe Couric Effect.âÄù

âÄúIf you appreciate me coming to Minneapolis,âÄù Couric told the audience, âÄúthe way you can say thank you is to get screened [for colon cancer] yourself. Seriously.âÄù

Before leaving the stage, Couric answered a handful of submitted questions. She answered questions regarding her coverage of Sept. 11, the future of journalism and the current situation in Haiti. She ended the evening by posing for photos and schmoozing with alumni. âÄúThis fantastic University is home to 40,000 young, brilliant minds,âÄù Couric said. âÄúMaybe you can be a Tim Russert, that voice that says, âÄòYes you canâÄô and âÄòI believe in you.âÄô âÄù