CNN's Anderson Cooper shares stories of life and career with UK students

Anderson Cooper addresses the crowd of the first annual SAB Speak Blue event in Lexington, Ky., on Monday, September 30, 2013. Photo by Adam Pennavaria | Staff

Anderson Cooper addresses the crowd of the first annual SAB Speak Blue event in Lexington, Ky., on Monday, September 30, 2013. Photo by Adam Pennavaria | Staff

Morgan Eads| News Editor

Topics spanned from being imprisoned in Iran to having Pizza Hut with Neo-Nazis when Anderson Cooper visited Memorial Coliseum Monday night.

Cooper, a well-known CNN news anchor, told of his time in war and disaster zones in a discussion moderated by Dr. Beth Barnes, director of the School of Journalism and Telecommunications.

Cooper said he started his career by going to war zones by himself with a borrowed video camera.

“I did some stupid things,” Cooper said.

He went on to say he lost friends who had tried to do the same thing.

After his brother and father died, Cooper said he was drawn to disastrous situations.

“I feel like I spoke the language of loss,” he said.

It was the people who were killed or in danger that drove him to continue reporting.

Unnamed and unknown victims of violence inspired Cooper’s reporting.

“They don’t deserve to die in silence on the side of the road,” he said.

Cooper told of one instance when he took pictures of a dead body with his personal camera.

He then realized that he needed to make a change, and that he needed to see them as people who had died rather than just bodies.

“I believe there is a value in understanding other people’s struggles,” Cooper said.

Situations where others are in danger can make it hard for reporters to see the line of when to intervene and when to remain an observer, Cooper said.

He discussed when he carried an injured Haitian boy to safety in the middle of a riot, and when he remained as an observer when a woman was being beaten in another instance of his reporting.

Reporters have to understand when they are able to do something and when nothing can be done, he said.

“We are all kind of on a precipice,” and lives can be changed by the pulling of a trigger or a gust of wind, Cooper said.

While some may find this frightening, Cooper said he sees this type or reporting as something that bonds people together.

In different situations, Cooper said he learned more about people than he ever did during schooling.

“We’re all capable of anything … given the right or the wrong circumstances.”

During weekends and vacations, Cooper works as a correspondent for “60 Minutes” and works on other stories.

Vacations are not a common thing to come by, he said.

“Regular life is not as interesting as storytelling,” Cooper said.

This coincided with his advice to those hoping to work in journalism: “Hustle more and work harder than anyone.”

Though Cooper has interviewed many celebrities, he said the stories of everyday people were more intriguing to him.

Cooper did say that interviewing Adele was “so much fun,” saying that she was extremely candid.

In particular, he cited when the singer spoke of how her throat looked after a surgery she had to correct a throat injury.

“Adele said, ‘It was like a vagina in my throat,’ and I don’t have a lot of experience in that area,” he said, enticing loud and widespread laughter.

Cooper spoke of why he “came out” publicly.  He said he had never been really hiding his sexuality, but it could have been dangerous to him in certain situations, like when he was imprisoned in Iran for three days, a place where gays are persecuted.

“I didn’t want it to seem like I was uncomfortable or was hiding something … I can honestly think that being gay is the greatest privilege of my life,” he said.

Cooper’s conversation about his career and success inspired students in the audience.

“It gives us something to strive for,” undeclared freshman Elizabeth Bean said.

Another student said the talk was inspirational.

“He was great, insightful and very open about his life,” said Michael Parsons, a Spanish and international studies freshman.

One student said he had high hopes for future SpeakBlue events.

“I hope SAB keeps bringing awesome people like this,” said Michael Gomez, a Spanish and international studies freshman.

As the evening came to a close, Barnes gave Cooper an official welcome to the big blue nation. Cooper responded, saying he was “born with blue eyes for this very moment.”