April 3, 2012 -- The Mount welcomes Los Angeles Times columnist Sandy Banks as its 2012 commencement speaker on May 7 at the Gibson Amphitheatre in Universal City.
Banks grew up in Cleveland with an after-school routine: She’d lie on the floor, put her feet on a heating vent and read Ann Landers and Dear Abby. Then she’d clip out her favorite columns and stick them in her journal.
She still has a few. They remind her of the power of the written word to comfort, challenge, teach and inspire.
Journalism became her passion in college, when a class at Ohio State University required a term on the campus newspaper. Her time at Ohio State was cut short; her mother was diagnosed with cancer in her sophomore year. Sandy moved home to help care for her mother who died a few months later.
The next year Sandy graduated cum laude from Cleveland State University and took a job as a sports writer at a black weekly newspaper. Afterward she spent two years as a reporter at the Cleveland Press, before moving west to California in 1979 to join the staff of the Los Angeles Times.
Her 32-year career at the Los Angeles Times has included stints as a reporter, writer, editor, columnist, editorial writer and director of the newspaper's internship program. She was on the team awarded a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Los Angeles riots in 1992.
She is best known for her twice-a-week columns, which offer her personal perspective on events and issues in the news. Her work has won national recognition from journalism groups and organizations as varied as the National Council of Jewish Women and the Muslim Women's League; the Watts Community Health Foundation and the Beverly Hills Rotary Club; the California Teachers’ Association and the Union of Medical Marijuana Patients.
In addition to her role at the newspaper, Sandy has taught journalism courses at USC and Cal State Northridge, written for several magazines, and provided commentary on CNN, PBS and NPR. She is a frequent speaker at civic functions, leadership forums and educational events, and is at work on a collection of essays and columns. Widowed in 1993, she raised her three daughters in Northridge. The two youngest are attending college; the oldest graduated from Stanford.
The College invited Banks to answer a few questions about her roles as education advocate and writer.
Q: What role does a college education play in a woman’s life?
A: A college education opens doors to professional success and satisfaction, translating to more career choices and higher lifelong income for a graduate. But just as important, the college experience can broaden a woman’s horizons by introducing a world outside of familiar family, friends and community. The challenge of new ideas and diverse perspectives encourages the sort of personal growth that enriches a woman’s life journey.
Q: How can Californians get involved to support their schools in this time of a severe budget cuts?
A: On a collective level, Californians can be more vocal activists for stable and adequate school funding. College students have tried to do their part, with demonstrations and rallies. But we all need to become more politically active to ensure that education is considered a funding priority, by holding legislators accountable for their funding choices and monitoring spending to see that money for schools goes to where it is most needed and can make the most difference in student outcome.
Q: What tips for success do you have for Los Angeles’ young women of color?
A: Value what you know, where you have been and who you are. The basics are the same for all of us: do your best on every task; don’t be afraid to ask for help; be a team player, but be willing to work longer, harder and smarter than everyone else. But beyond that, believe in yourself; your own unique past and present and perspective are valuable, and they are what you bring to the table. Don’t be afraid to say what you think, challenge convention and encourage honesty.
Q: As a writer, how do you find your voice in a media universe saturated with endless commentary?
A: I try to follow the advice I offer to young women: Be true to yourself. I don’t always have the answers, but I am always willing to ask the questions. I try to follow my own heart in pursuit of columns, and that means owning up to confusion, conflict, indecision, anger, awe. I try to be intellectually curious and emotionally vulnerable. If you are reliably authentic, people may disagree, but they will trust you enough to at least listen.
Q: What was your favorite class or activity in college? Why?
A: My favorite activity was my sorority, which helped me find a sense of sisterhood on campus. Only a tiny percentage of Ohio State students were black, and the campus was so large there were few leadership opportunities for women. Through my historically-black sorority, I developed a close network of friends and became active in political movements on campus and charitable activities in the community. My favorite classes tended to be courses related to sociology; I loved linguistics, religion and philosophy classes, because they focused on links between groups of people across geography and over time.