‘I Have Many Happy Memories Of This Place’
Walter Rodgers’ career travels as an ABC News and CNN correspondent took him all over the world. He has dined and played softball with former U.S. Presidents, provided coverage of historical events internationally and faced numerous life-threatening situations as a war correspondent.
He admits to often reflecting on his distinguished career. But Rodgers, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history from SIU in 1962 and 1964, respectively, still speaks vividly about his college years in Carbondale.
“I have many happy memories of this place. This University is a laboratory between high school and the real world,” Rodgers says. “Students learn about themselves and how to think. The remoteness of SIU stimulates thought. It is located in a lovely part of the world to spend four to six years of your life.”
Rodgers speaks fondly of professors who prepared him for career endeavors. He says SIU helps students realize their potential through the efforts of ‘good dedicated teachers.’
The SIU graduate recalls one particular story involving Harry Ammon, one of his history professors. Rodgers was in the midst of a seminar in American Colonial History and was required to present a draft of his term paper to Ammon who rejected it.
Ammon was unimpressed and told him to do it again.
“I submitted my paper thinking it I was the greatest thing since sliced bread. He tore it apart and said ‘Do it again and get it right next time’” Rodgers says. “That was one of the greatest academic experiences of my life. I eventually got an A+ on the paper.
“That is what good teaching is about. SIU had good teachers.”
Rodgers has followed in his mentors’ steps since retiring as senior international news correspondent for CNN in 2005. He taught a course on history of religious warfare at James Madison University, where the SIU graduate served as a distinguished visiting scholar in the Department of Justice Studies.
Additionally, the Vienna, Va., resident contributed a political column to the Christian Science Monitor. An avid reader, Rodgers often encourages young people to read extensively and gain expertise in a field beyond their vocation.
“It keeps your mind sharp. Learning doesn’t stop when you graduate. Commencement is the day you begin learning for the rest of your life,” he says.
During a visit to the SIU campus in November, Rodgers reminisced while visiting his old haunts. He enjoyed a tour of Morris Library, which has been renovated since his last trip to Carbondale, and a walk through Thompson Woods looking for ghosts.
The 2005 SIU Distinguished Alumni Award recipient reflected and shared memories and wisdom he garnered during nearly 40 years of broadcasting news for Associated Press, ABC and ultimately with CNN.
Rodgers conducted a public presentation in the Guyon Auditorium of his beloved Morris Library titled: Presidents I’ve Known and Liked – Well, Sort Of. From conversing with John F. Kennedy at a cocktail party in the President’s home, to dining with Gerald Ford, and playing softball with Jimmy Carter, he shared encounters he had with the nation’s leaders during his career.
The SIU graduate was particularly close to Ford, who he refers to as a tutor and friend during the early stages of his career. He refers to Carter as “one of the brightest presidents of the 20th century.”
“Sadly, it has become a penchant for Americans to savage their presidents. Too often, we forget they are human and hurt and bleed like the rest of us,” Rodgers says. “People don’t necessarily watch the news to acquire a better understanding. They prefer to reaffirm their prejudices. Everyone should examine their biases.
“I learned critical thinking at SIU. I learned so much.”
And that’s why Rodgers makes it a priority to share with students during his visits to Carbondale. He visited with radio-television and digital media students, offering survival tips and advice for the dangerous role of war correspondent. The SIU alumnus fielded several questions from students who indicated that they were hoping to become combat correspondents, too.
“I received a free education here because of a full-ride athletic scholarship for swimming,” he notes. “I owe this institution. That is why I come back pro bono and help as best I can.”
“A Biblical saying states ‘to whom much is given, much will be required.’ I have been given a lot. So if I can come back, help young people, and in part some wisdom, that is good.”