“JCU helped me recognize my inherent biases. My professors taught me how to search for the truth and go beyond the facts to the analysis.”
Mary Ann Ahern is an Emmy-winning political reporter. She joined NBC 5 Chicago in 1989 and has covered political campaigns, national debates, and major stories in the Catholic Church, including the selections of Popes Benedict and Francis. Before joining NBC 5, Ahern was a political reporter for TV stations in Atlanta and Peoria, IL. She spent the first five years of her career teaching at two Chicago area high schools while earning a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University in 1982.
Q: Why did you attend JCU?
A: I have two older brothers who also went to John Carroll. My oldest brother had class with Tim Russert, and he was the key person who helped me get to Atlanta and Chicago. It’s those kinds of connections you make on a smaller campus that is the biggest part of John Carroll. I had many different opportunities at John Carroll that I might not have had at a big school. When I speak to the incoming students who are admitted here, I tell them, “You can go to the big school and have all that, but you can also go to a John Carroll and be a big fish in a smaller pond.” And at Northwestern, which is very competitive, I was prepared to contribute and learn alongside some of the smartest and most accomplished graduate students in the country because I learned how to study at John Carroll.
Q: What story or experience best reflects your JCU experience?
A: When I was a senior, we wanted a cool speaker at our graduation. We typed on my old-fashioned typewriter letters to five or six high-profile people… Barbara Walters… Gerald Ford’s son. I sent a letter to Bob Hope. One day, the president of the university’s secretary calls and says, “Fr. Birkenhauer would like to see you.” I, of course, walk over to his office. He said, “I think it’s great you invited Bob Hope to our graduation; however, next time you offer him an honorary degree, would you check with me first?” Best part—it worked. Bob Hope spoke at our graduation.
I don’t know if I would have done that without the foundation of quality writing and speaking I had from John Carroll. Here was this kid who grew up in Michigan City, Indiana, and I had the confidence in myself and enough guts to say, “I can do this.”
Q: What was the most valuable lesson from your time at JCU that shaped you personally or professionally?
A: As politics have ebbed and flowed, and I’ve covered it for many years, the truth is you’ve got to do your best to be fair and not prejudge. That’s difficult sometimes. We’re all human. We all have biases. Going to John Carroll, I learned not every single person came from my background or thought like I did. I lived with other folks who came from different places. I had teachers that handed a paper back and said, “No. You need to go a little deeper. I’m not just looking for you to tell me the facts. I’m looking for your analysis.” It was folks teaching me early on to take a pause, take it all in and do your best to have integrity. No matter what career you’re in, it’s all about making connections and being able to look people in the eye and talk to them. That’s what John Carroll taught me, and I’m forever grateful.
Q: How are you making a human impact in your career?
A: I cover politics and I absolutely love my job; I’ve covered primaries and debates and city hall, which is always interesting in Chicago. But no matter what, even if you’re working at the network in New York, you always give back. You don’t just look at what you’re doing and how well you’re doing, but who are you bringing up along with you.
I’m fortunate in my position to help shape our future journalists, and I’ve had some fantastic John Carroll interns. When John Carroll students call, I give them advice or have them come visit me for the day because I know it’s not something they’ve witnessed or been a part of. It can be a scary world out there, and sometimes your dream job appears to be more untouchable than it really is, so helping students and recent graduates make that first connection and really understand how this business works is another way I try to make a difference.