Kelly O'Donnell: Exemplifying Journalistic Excellence

Kelly O'Donnell: Exemplifying Journalistic Excellence

O'DonnellKelly O’Donnell (BS87), an Emmy Award-winning political reporter, was one of four trailblazing alumni who received a 2017 Northwestern Alumni Medal for exemplifying the ideals of Northwestern through their life, work and service.

The White House and Capitol Hill Correspondent for NBC News, O’Donnell has covered some of the biggest stories of the past three decades, including the O.J. Simpson trial, Oklahoma City bombing, Sept. 11 attacks, Iraq War and four Olympic Games, Lindsay Beller wrote in "Exceptional Directions" in Northwestern magazine.

O’Donnell also has traveled with candidates across seven presidential campaigns and covered U.S. Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump.

During the 2016 presidential race, she broke several stories, including Hillary Clinton’s election-night concession, the Democratic National Committee’s removal of its chairwoman and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s interview to become Trump’s running mate.

Always drawn to the news and the world around her, O’Donnell pursued a bachelor’s degree in education with a focus on journalism and public policy at the School of Education and Social Policy. She honed her journalism skills at the student radio station, WNUR, and through an internship with Chicago’s CBS radio station WBBM.

She also showed her perseverance. When O’Donnell realized she would need an extra quarter to finish her coursework, she pleaded unsuccessfully with several administrators to let her walk across the stage at graduation. Undeterred, she sought out Northwestern President Arnold Weber ’95 H, who ultimately agreed to let her participate in the ceremony.

“In some ways, he was the first president I pestered with questions,” O’Donnell jokes.

In 2005 O’Donnell became the White House correspondent for NBC, and she added Capitol Hill to her beat in 2009. Despite increasing political tensions and attacks on the media, she works hard to show all sides of every issue through balanced reporting.

“I try to understand where people are coming from,” says O’Donnell. “The more that I am able to validate the experiences that people have in all spectra, the more effective I am at my stories because people trust that if they talk to me, I’m really going to listen.”

A tradition for more than 80 years, the Northwestern Alumni Medal is given to alumni who are trailblazers in their industries and provide outstanding support and service to Northwestern and society. 

In addition to O’Donnell, this year’s medalists include an award-winning writer and producer of television shows and movies; an environmentalist and entrepreneur in the finance and banking sector and an electrical engineer and inventor who holds 30 patents.

President Morton Schapiro led a discussion with these four outstanding alumni at “President’s Alumni Panel: My Northwestern Direction” during 2017 Reunion festivities. 

By Lindsay Beller, Northwestern Magazine
Last Modified: 10/10/17