When Diane Dwyer graduated from Cal with a B.S. in Business Administration in 1987, she intended to work in investment banking, not journalism. Two Emmy awards and many accolades later, Diane has anchored the news for over 25 years, reporting the stories of people from all walks of life, from a pig rancher in Butte, Montana to Attorney General Janet Reno. She produced and wrote the NBC documentary on the 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley and currently teaches at Haas Business School. In celebration of her 30th Cal reunion, Dwyer shares her unwavering support and enthusiasm for Cal and how her undergraduate experience helped pave the way for her success as a reporter, volunteer, and teacher.
How did you transition from a career in business to a career in journalism?
When I was a student at Haas, I took a required public speaking class. At first, I was terrified, but I discovered that I loved it. The class helped me understand the power in being able to express ideas in front of a group of people. After graduating, I landed my dream job working in investment banking, but I didn’t feel passionate about what I was doing. When the bank relocated to Los Angeles, I took the time to try something new. Having talked to many people who loved working in broadcasting, I decided to give reporting the news a try. I landed an internship at a small news station in Palm Springs and, within the first hour of working there on my first day, I knew I had found my place. I loved everything about it: the conversation, the disagreements, the concept of forming a story, and so many other things. Within the first month, I reported the news for the first time — a story on Sonny Bono, then the mayor of Palm Springs, who was holding a fundraiser. It got on the air and it was thrilling to me to be able to tell this story.
When you were a student at Cal, were there other things besides business that you were interested in? Was there anything that helped lay the groundwork for your career in journalism?
Yes, in the sense that everything that happens at Cal in interesting. You cannot go to Cal and avoid being exposed to political events happening in the world. It was an eye-opener for me to see others express their passion for causes they cared for. I became interested in issues I was not passionate about just by seeing other people’s willingness to protest for something that mattered to them. I feel that this made me a more well-rounded person and more aware of issues that affected the world around me.
Another way Cal helped prepare me is that I was expected to be an adult; there was no hand-holding. To get classes I was interested in or needed to graduate, but were filled, I sat in on those classes and talked to the professor beforehand. This helped me in the sense that, when I tried to get an interview with someone and was refused, I had to be persistent. This was very valuable in the world of reporting. Lots of doors were shut in my face and I had to climb in through the window. It was a good skill to learn.
What are some of your favorite memories of Cal?
There are many, but one of the greatest gifts Cal gave me is the opportunity to volunteer in the community. This was something I had not done before, but was a requirement of the business school. I volunteered at Malcolm X Elementary School as a math tutor once a week. Math is a subject that has always come naturally to me. For many of my tutees, math was a challenge, and watching them transform over the year and teaching them the logic of math was completely rewarding and set the tone for the rest of my life. Because of this transformative experience, volunteering is something I value and I think has made me a more interesting reporter and better community member.
The football games and the comradery built around them are also some of my favorite Cal memories. Connecting with alumni and networking beforehand at tailgates with my siblings is something I really enjoyed. I loved hearing the stories of being a student at Cal from alumni and how they continue to support Cal every year. I was a senior in high school for The Play and had applied to Cal, but didn’t know whether or not I had been accepted yet. I remember being there during the last quarter and seeing it happen, so that was pretty special.
Did you have a favorite class at Cal?
One of the classes that stood out to me was a sports psychology class taught by Harry Edwards. I found him to be one of the most powerful speakers I have ever experienced. I didn’t think I’d want to be a public speaker, but seeing the power he had by expressing his thoughts and ideas to the class made an impact on me.
What do you envision for Cal in the next thirty years?
The reason I joined the Board of the Alumni Association is specifically because of this question. Cal is an unbelievable resource. I feel so fortunate to have studied there. We are at a cusp now, where we need to change the way we think about the university. When I was in school, 60 percent of funding was provided by the state. Now the amount of funding provided is 12 percent. I think we need our students and alumni to understand how state funding has drastically changed over the years and that we need to give back at a greater level. We need to help Cal hold its primary place in the world and its incredible research and teaching opportunities. In 30 years, I want to be in a place where all alumni are engaged and making sure Cal continues to stay great.
In photo: Inspired by her love for Berkeley, Dwyer bought one of the classroom doors from the Life Sciences building when it was being renovated. Now, it serves as a functional door in her home and makes her think of Cal every time she uses it.