Blitzer reflects on time in Buffalo
By Caitlin Tremblay
UB alumnus Wolf Blitzer returned to UB on Friday to accept a Distinguished Alumni award for his career advancements and continued service to the community.
With his fluffy white hair, piercing blue eyes and a beard so famous that it has its own Twitter account, it’s not surprising that the UB Alumni Association honored CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer on Friday.
Blitzer received UB’s Distinguished Alumni Award for his exceptional career accomplishments and service to the UB community. Blitzer was honored with a dinner and award ceremony in Lippes Concert Hall in Slee Hall on North Campus on Friday.
Blitzer was born in Augsburg, Germany in 1948 and raised in Buffalo. Blitzer spent his childhood in Kenmore and attended Kenmore West Senior High School. He visited his alma mater on Friday, speaking with current students about careers in journalism and media while posting his pride on his Twitter account: “Thrilled to be at Kenmore West Senior High School. I love this place. Remember: West is best; East is least.”
Blitzer received a bachelor’s degree in history from UB in 1970 and said the degree and courses helped him pursue a career as a journalist.
“When all is said and done, what is journalism? It’s a first draft of history,” Blitzer said. “So we write that draft and then others come along and polish it and revise it and make it better based on more information. The history education I received in Buffalo was fabulous.”
Blitzer continued to speak fondly about his time at UB – he attended the university in the midst of the Vietnam War, one of the most turbulent times in American history. This turmoil extended to UB’s campus.
“It was a really politically charged period, the anti-war movement. The Vietnam War was going on. I spent four years here, 1966-70, right in the middle of all the activity in Buffalo,” Blitzer said.
Blitzer also remembers the tension on campus felt by the male students, who were worried that once their student deferrals expired after graduation, they would be sent to Vietnam in the draft and perhaps never make it home to start their careers.
During Blitzer’s senior year, a draft lottery system was put into effect.
“They only needed about a third of those eligible. Your birthday was put into a lottery. If you had a high number, you were drafted; if you had a low number, you weren’t drafted. My number was very low, so I wasn’t drafted and I didn’t have to worry,” Blitzer said.
Blitzer finished out his degree without the threat of the Vietnam War looming ominously over his head, which allowed him to focus on his career and life after UB. He said that the university played an integral role in getting him where he is today.
Blitzer attributes much of his success to UB’s activist students and faculty. Despite not quite understanding the full impact that the anti-war movement had on the ’60s and ’70s, he said that the movement led to a certain inquisitiveness that eventually took him down his current, politically charged career path.
“It was a great experience, all in all. I can’t complain,” Blitzer said. “As I look back today on my career, those four years helped inspire me even though I didn’t appreciate or understand what was going on at the time. I think that it built up a curiosity factor in me and got me into this field.”
Blitzer is currently the host of “The Situation Room” on CNN and is CNN’s lead political anchor. He began his career in political media after receiving his master’s degree in international relations from Johns Hopkins University in 1972. He was inspired to apply to the program by one of his Buffalo history professors, Clifton Yearley, who saw his potential.
After graduating, Blitzer landed a job with Reuters news agency in the Tel Aviv bureau and soon after became the Washington correspondent for the Jerusalem Report, an English-language Israeli newspaper.
Blitzer spent much of his early career asking the tough questions about the state of Israel and its relations with other nations, including the U.S. and Egypt. He was the first person in news media to ask Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat about the tensions between Israel and Egypt. Some sources credit Blitzer with making the peace talks between the two countries possible.
According to Blitzer, his UB education taught him to ask those tough questions.
“[The classes at UB weren’t] just open your book and read it. The lectures were thrilling and knowledgeable,” Blitzer said. “I loved history and I still do. I think it’s one of the reasons I went into journalism.”
Blitzer moved to CNN in 1990, while many current UB students were still in diapers. From there he rose in the ranks from a military affairs reporter to a White House correspondent, and eventually hosted a series of news programs. He won an Emmy for his coverage of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1999.
Even with his massive amount of success, Blitzer has still found time to give back to UB. In 2003, he endowed the UB David Blitzer Lecture Series in Jewish Studies in honor of his late father. This year, the lecture series features a number of influential Jewish activists and scholars, including Kenneth Seeskin, a professor of Jewish Civilization at Northwestern University.
Blitzer often visits Buffalo and is thankful to the city for all of the opportunities it gave him and his family when they first came to this country.
“Buffalo was a fabulous community for my family and for me. Some of my best friends today are young people I met in Buffalo,” Blitzer said. “I just think Buffalo is a warm community that took my family in and welcomed them and gave us a lot of opportunities. I think I miss that the most [when I’m away].”
With all of the paths he’s followed on the road to becoming one of CNN’s most influential anchors, Blitzer has only two pieces of advice for those hoping to follow in his footsteps: ask questions and practice.
“Ask lots of questions and you’ll have a front row seat to history,” Blitzer said. “Also, practice. If you want to be a reporter, go out and report, just like if you want to be a tennis player, you go out and play tennis. Practice.”
In other Blitzer news The Hill is reporting that Wolf and Chef Bobby Flay will be the special guests at Capitol File's party after the White House Correspondents Association dinner on May 1st. The Capitol File party is presented by Jason Bing and will be held at the Renaissance Mayflower Hotel. Guests including John Cusack, Arianna Huffington, Bill Maher, Jeremy Renner and Twitter CEO & Founder, Evan Williams will hit the dance floor to the beats of DJ Cassidy who spun for President Barack Obama's Inauguration party.