Award-winning CNN anchor Don Lemon delivered the keynote speech at the Black History Month Cultural Dinner in Bone Student Center’s Brown Ballroom on Tuesday.
Lemon covered a broad cross-section of his life, focusing on his journey and the adversity he has overcome along the way. Acknowledging prejudice and racism still exist today, he said dealing with self-limitations and the fear of failure were among the biggest obstacles he had to overcome.
“Nothing is easy,” Lemon told the Illinois State University crowd. “When you’re trying to live with the fear of failure, it’s going to be hard, but you have to do it.”
The cultural dinner was sponsored by University Housing Services in collaboration with Campus Dining Services, MECCPAC, Association of Residence Halls, Tri-Towers Area Government and the West Campus Diversity Coalition.
During the dinner, Lemon spoke specifically about the self-doubt he experienced while writing his book Transparent, in which he revealed he was gay. The daunting task of writing seemed overwhelming at the time, but he said that just like exercising, it wasn’t meant to be easy.
“Once I started putting my thoughts onto the page and they kept coming out, I wrote the book within a couple of months,” Lemon said. ”I was living with the threat of failure. I was not playing it safe. No one has ever accomplished anything by playing it safe.”
Lemon recalled the first time he took a step back and looked at how far he’d come in his career. After working as a correspondent and anchor with local television stations, Lemon eventually was given the opportunity to be a newsreader on NBC’s Weekend Today show.
“So I called my mother and said, ‘You should watch the Weekend Today show.’ I didn’t want to tell her why…” Lemon said.
Just before going live, that realization set in.
“So we are in earpieces, and when the music came up in my earpiece I almost lost it, and I was like, ‘Oh Don, you cannot lose it, this is your big shot you cannot lose it,’ and it’s because I knew my mother was back home and she was watching and she was crying. I could just imagine her watching.”
Lemon left the audience with a few encouraging words in his closing remarks.
“If you are doing what you are meant to do, no one can take that away from you. It may not play out exactly how you imagined it. It may not happen as soon as you might want it, but it will happen as long as you work hard, have a good attitude, keep moving, don’t take anything personally, don’t think of yourself as the other, and live with the threat of failure.”
Check out more photos from Lemon’s Illinois State visit:
Andrew Avitt can be reached at asavitt@IllinoisState.edu.