Meet Gwen Ifill
Best known as a successful and much admired television news anchor, Gwen Ifill '77 '93HD launched her career here at Simmons, where she majored in Communications, wrote for student publications, and interned at local newspapers.
"Simmons gave me the opportunity to be a leader, to take charge and express myself." - Gwen Ifill
A Life of Purpose
After graduating from Simmons in 1977 with her degree in Communications, Ifill dedicated herself to print and television journalism for nearly 40 years. She was one of the most successful female African-American news correspondents of all time, holding positions at the New York Times, The Washington Post, NBC, and PBS. Ifill was known for her accurate and unbiased reporting, not wanting her audience to know her opinions; she wanted to engage them in important issues of the day.
Ifill's work garnered multiple awards, including the highly regarded Peabody Award. In 1993 Simmons presented her with an honorary doctorate—one of 41 she received in her career. While she loved to laugh, her approach to work was simple: "I just take what I do seriously every single day."
Expanding the idea of what's possible
A Black woman covering politics, Gwen often found herself overturning stereotypes and breaking new ground. She encouraged the next generation of journalists, advising, "learn lessons from the people who are willing to help and ignore the haters."
Ifill didn't draw attention to being one of the first African-American women to host a network news show, but she relished the idea that she was opening up opportunities for others. She noted, "I'm very keen about the fact that a little girl now, watching the news, when they see me and Judy [Woodruff] sitting side by side, it will occur to them that that's perfectly normal—that it won't seem like any big breakthrough at all."
A voice of integrity
Genuinely curious, quietly confident, and always prepared, Ifill became a skilled interviewer. "The challenge," she once said, "is to be smarter and more thorough but not to bore people to death."
One of the reasons Ifill moved to PBS mid-career was to spend a little more time on stories and avoid sensationalism. Her fair, accurate, and thoughtful reporting grew an audience that looked to her as a trusted voice in a changing media landscape.
"I always appreciated Gwen's reporting, even when I was at the receiving end of one of her tough and thorough interviews" - President Barack Obama
Nurturing the next generation
After Ifill's death, voices across the internet spoke about her importance as a mentor and inspiration. An Associated Press editor recalled that early in her career she ventured up to Ifill, who encouraged her and said: "You can do this."
Ifill had a gift for friendship as well as reporting. "You could read by the light of her smile," journalist John Dickerson noted, "And if you could make her laugh that was a prize. The sound of pure joy."
"Simmons was a launching pad for Gwen and prepared her well. She graduated thoroughly grounded in the liberal arts and sciences, and well-prepared professionally to embark on her journalism career, and it all started at Simmons."— Dr. Roberto Ifill