GREENSBORO — A crowd of people gathered inside the Greensboro Coliseum Sunday afternoon to learn what drives a reporter.
Or at least they learned what drives CNN’s Anderson Cooper, who visited the Gate City as the final speaker of the 2014-2015 season of Guilford College’s Bryan Series.
Since 1996, the Bryan Series has brought speakers, such as former President Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and filmmaker Ken Burns, to its more than 4,600 subscribers and 157 Bryan Series Legacy members.
“Our Bryan Series speakers often represent the value of a liberal arts education and offer real-life examples of accomplished individuals making a difference, often taking a non-traditional path ,” said Jane Fernandes, Guilford College’s president.
Sunday afternoon was about Cooper.
An additional 500 people bought tickets to hear Cooper, and he lived up to the reputation of Bryan Series speakers.
“I always find it weird to be introduced as a TV news anchor,” Cooper said. “It’s nothing I ever set out to become.”
After graduating as a political science major from Yale University, Cooper began his career answering phones at ABC.
But choosing to follow his own path, Cooper borrowed a camera and visited war zones without a television network backing him.
He convinced digital news provider Channel One News to purchase his television packages.
Since that time, Cooper has witnessed war, natural disasters and the tragedies of everyday life.
“I wanted to go where the language of loss was spoken,” Cooper said. “Where life and death wasn’t something people feared talking about. It was something that they faced and talked about everyday.”
In his senior year of college, Cooper experienced his own tragedy when his brother committed suicide.
“I didn’t realize it at the time, I did have an ulterior motive,” Cooper said. “I needed those stories in some personal ways.”
Cooper said he was trying to learn to survive his own loss.
“I needed to make some sense of what happened and learning from other people’s stories was one way to do that,” he said.
Those moments drove Cooper’s career, but his speech on Sunday also had a less serious side.
It often had the audience laughing.
Cooper is the son of writer Wyatt Emory Cooper and designer Gloria Vanderbilt who comes from a famous family that made its millions in shipping and railroads.
“I thought, and this is going to sound ridiculous and tell you what a ridiculously privileged childhood I had, all grandparents turned into statues when they died,” Cooper said.
He shared career advice from his mother — “wear vertical stripes because it’s slimming" — and talked about his notorious relationship with Kathy Griffin, a comedian with whom he hosts New Year’s Eve coverage in Time Square.
He told stories about politicians he had encountered and how one awkward hand gesture they use — pointing with their thumb while making a fist — drives him bananas.
But most of all, Cooper discussed his journalism career and what it has taught him about people and life.
“The most important thing I’ve learned,” he said, “is the line that separates each of us from one another, the line that separates the rich and the poor, the healthy and the sick and the line that separate the living from the dead, that line is thread thin.”