Alumna Marsha Cooke Addresses Graduating Class


Thirty years after leaving Temple with "no connections, no money, no legacy," Marsha Cooke returned with an inspiring account of her rise to the top of the media world.

"I grew up in the Bronx with crazy but loving and lovable immigrant parents," the vice president of News Services at CBS News said in her keynote speech.

"They taught me by example…work, work, work, work work."

For Cooke, a 1987 graduate, this meant a journey from rock radio in California, to the CBS News Bureau in Los Angeles, the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather, London, Tokyo and finally back to "the fishbowl" in New York.

It included working 24/7, leading coverage of stories including the presidential campaign, the Paris  and Brussels terrorist attacks, and the San Bernardino shooting ... and having the Dalai Lama lean his head against her and ask her about herself.

"I thought, 'my God, he really does sound like Yoda," she said

It also included realizing in amazement that her interns in Beijing had never heard of the Tiananmen Square uprisings of 1989, in which government troops and tanks mowed down hundreds of pro-democracy demonstrators.

"Their schools had never taught them what actually happened," she said.

In Japan, she said, knowing nothing of the language meant that "I learned to talk a lot with my hands. I learned how to bow a lot and say I was sorry."

But as it was on her first days on North Broad Street, it also meant "ratcheting up the drive, the desire, the chutzpah."

In Cooke's current job, she heads the network's satellite newsgathering organization, which provides content to 200 CBS affiliates nationwide and to broadcasters around the world.

She noted that her career started "way back when cellphones were heavy," and said she had been apprehensive years ago about her post-Asia introduction to the digital world of newsgathering. But when she got there, she said, she found "[she] had landed not in Siberia but on the ground floor of the future."

Working with colleagues decades younger, she told the approximately 200 graduates, "I was overwhelmed by their knowledge and ability.

"I decided to learn what they knew...analytics, social media, streaming. When it came to the 'F word,' theirs was Facebook, mine was fact-checking."

Both Cooke and Dean David Boardman, who introduced her, stressed that today's young journalists face stiffer challenges than their predecessors because the media faces stiffer challenges.

Trust in mainstream media "is not a given as it once was," Cooke said in a post-speech interview. "We have to be more vigilant about what we put out and how we put it out there."

Boardman called 2016 a year in which the media "failed us in so many ways," a year in which "many of us used news and information the way a drunk uses a lamppost: for support, not illumination."

And he and Cooke told the graduates they would have to help turn the tide.

"You rocked it here at Temple and you will undoubtedly rock it when you leave," Boardman said.

"We and our society need you. We need fresh eyes and fresh voices, communicators who are skeptical but not cynical, who see our nation's growing diversity as an asset and not a threat, who want to break down walls rather than to build new ones, who respect facts and data over hype and fear."

While noting the new media environment, Cooke stressed the continuity with the Temple of the 1980s.

"Technology and hairdos may have changed," she said, but "back when I was sitting where you are today, I was asking myself the very same question that you are asking yourselves: 'What the hell am I going to do now?'''

In the interview,  Cooke said her favorite professor at what was then the Department of Radio, TV and Film was Jay Ruby, who taught media anthropology.

"He was the first professor who challenged me to feel different about the media.

"He made us realize that every time we turned the camera on a subject, it changed them…and us."

Asked for her favorite Temple memory,  she hesitated only briefly, smiled and said it was near the Bell Tower, "kicking around a Hacky Sack" with her broadcast classmates.

"It was that moment where I felt I was in college," she said. "I'm away, I'm at school, and I'm learning."