I’ll admit that I’m out of the evening network news demographic, so when Katie Couric was given the glass ceiling shattering anchor chair from Dan Rather on the CBS Evening News in 2006, it felt more like a windshield chip. Significant enough to take note, but not something I was particularly paying attention to.
So when I read her graduation speech to Princeton this June, I feel like she’s slowly spidered her way into a significant place in women’s history. Not only did she spend the first half of her speech mocking Princeton for her being the first female graduation speaker (“So, I'd like to officially welcome Princeton to the 21st Century”), but she also spent a solid piece of her speech offering straight shooting advice for young women graduates:
Third, I have a message particularly for all you young women here today...For all of the critiques she received when taking over CBS Evening News, in some ways, Couric taking that seat became a foreshadowing of what turned out to be the “Year of the Woman.”
I'm sure you are all graduating with big career goals. You may also have a dream of being married and having a family, and at some point the career may take a backseat...I just want to say this--sometimes dreams of domestic bliss are interrupted by reality. People get divorced. People die. You need to protect yourself. I was very happily married to a wonderful man. He was diagnosed with colon cancer and nine months later, he was gone. I was a single mom with two very young children. This was not part of the plan. Luckily, I had a career and therefore the financial independence to support my children. Many women in my situation are not nearly as fortunate. And while I don't mean to be a Debbie Downer, I want you all to be prepared for the unexpected and approach some of the big life decisions you'll be making with your eyes wide open.
Her interviews with Sarah Palin provided the opportunity to demonstrate that she could be a kind, yet hard hitting journalist, asking tough, honest questions without the charges of sexism or misogyny. She proved to be exactly a voice that was needed during such a long and difficult campaign season, with the gender wars in full speed.
As she said in the NYTimes Sept. 15, 2008:
“[The election] is a great story for everyone, clearly,” she said. “But with the candidacy of Hillary Clinton and the emergence of Governor Palin, it is also worthwhile to have a female perspective on the news as well.”Here’s to a long tenure in that anchor chair – and a continued voice for career women everywhere.
“You’d like the gender issues to fall away, just as you hope that at some point the race thing will fade,” she said. “The road to gender equality really starts when the novelty wears off. And I think my presence anchoring a nightly newscast is much less jarring than it might have been initially.”