By AUDREY FISCHER
“Behind every strong woman there’s a stronger woman” was the message broadcast journalist Hoda Kotb delivered during her keynote address for the Library’s 2010 celebration of Women’s History Month.
For Kotb, that strength begins with her mother, Sameha Kotb, a longtime Library of Congress staff member.
“You can do it!” has been her mother’s rallying cry, Kotb said.
After graduating from Virginia Tech University, Kotb borrowed her mother’s car for what she thought would be a short stay in Richmond, Va., to secure her first job in broadcast journalism. The trip turned into 10 days of rejections—27 in all—throughout the South. No one was more surprised than the recent graduate to learn that she was “not ready” for even the tiniest media outlet. Finally, upon viewing her demo tape, Stan Sandroni of a CBS affiliate in Greenville, Miss., drawled, “Hoda, I like what I see.” That job led to other broadcast assignments throughout the South and Midwest, and then in New York, where she has been a correspondent for “Dateline NBC” since 1998.
“You never know where your path is going to go,” said Kotb, whose personal journey has taken her to New Orleans (during Hurricane Katrina), to Southeast Asia (during the Tsunami) and to war-torn Burma on a top secret mission to interview Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s democratically elected leader who was then under house arrest.
“I was in awe of her,” said Kotb. “She was steely and graceful and had sacrificed so much for her country. But she didn’t think of it as a sacrifice, but rather as her ‘destiny.’ It changed me, just watching her.
“I’ve seen resilience everywhere I’ve been,” said Kotb.
For Kotb, who lived and worked in New Orleans for six years, covering Hurricane Katrina was deeply personal. It became even more personal when she witnessed a mother separated from her baby in the process of boarding a bus to Houston. (They were later reunited, thanks to emergency personnel on the scene).
“I wanted to be with the Red Cross, not a journalist,” said Kotb, who was reminded by her producer on the scene that she needed to shift gears and prepare for an on-air interview.
Kotb’s path took a detour three years ago when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“It’s part of me, but it’s not all of me,” said Kotb, displaying her own brand of resilience. “It showed me that my life has margins,” making her choose to live each day to the fullest. And it changed her from someone who waited to be noticed to someone who seizes opportunities.
“You can’t scare me!” became her mantra. That new-found fearlessness led her into the office of NBC Universal President and CEO Jeff Zucker, where she threw her hat into the ring for the job of co-host (with Kathie Lee Gifford) of the fourth hour of the “Today” show. She got the job, which she juggles with her assignments for “Dateline NBC.”
For her part, Kotb enjoys the balance between “hard news” and the “spontaneity” of her morning show. And she enjoys her “Today” show colleagues, like Al Roker, who she says is always in a good mood.
“My dad drove a city bus, and I get to work at Rockefeller Center,” said Kotb, quoting Roker.
“The way you live your days is the way you live your life,” observed Kotb. “It’s about the little things, not the big ones.”
Hoda Kotb’s lecture titled “My Journey,” sponsored by the Library’s African Middle Eastern Division, the Library of Congress Professional Association and the Office of Opportunity, Inclusiveness and Compliance, is available on the Library’s website at www.loc.gov/webcasts/.