ABC News correspondent and host of “What Would You Do?” John Quiñones shared his story of perseverance Wednesday night at the Grand Theatre.
Quiñones was invited by Student Life and Leadership to give a lecture to Salt Lake Community College students and community members. Quiñones talked about the steps he took to achieve his dream and his desire to overcome the stereotype that Hispanics are uneducated.
Growing up in a family of migrant workers, he says his family traveled the country, making a living based on the crop season.
“We jumped in the back of the truck and traveled 1,700 miles to Michigan where we got paid 75 cents a bucket for cherries and it would take two hours to fill a bucket,” Quinones says. “Six weeks later we went to Ohio to gather tomatoes and would be paid 35 cents a bushel.
“It taught us how to work together as a family and how to pull ourselves up in hard times.”
Creative problem solving
Quiñones had a heavy accent, so he spent hours trying to change the way he talked so others could understand him.
“I knew if I wanted to be a reporter like Peter Jennings or Geraldo Rivera, I needed to get over my heavy Mexican accent. People would always laugh at my accent,” Quinones says. “I had to figure a way to overcome it, so at 14 years old I decided to try out for the lead in Romeo and Juliet. No one else tried out, so of course I got the role.”
He also says it was that role that allowed him to learn to enunciate clearly and come out of his shell.
The drive to earn a degree
Despite improving his speech, Quiñones says getting into college wasn’t easy.
“Whenever I would ask my counselors in school about taking the ACT and SAT, no one supported me,” Quiñones explains. “They would say ‘it’s great you have a dream but we think you should take something like wood shop’.”
He credits a governmental program called Upward Bound that taught kids like him the concept of someday going to college.
“I stand here today because of them,” Quiñones says.
A chance meeting with a woman who had attended Columbia University gave him the extra push he needed to apply for school. Quiñones, unable to pay for college, asked about financial aid and eventually received a fellowship.
“Never be afraid to ask,” Quiñones advises.
As a result, Quiñones earned a bachelor’s degree from St. Mary’s University in Texas and a master’s degree from the Columbia University School of Journalism.
Quiñones got his start as a radio host in Texas in 1975. After landing a job in Chicago as a reporter, he was given the chance to go undercover and unearth what it was like to cross the border, and the corruption in how immigrants are treated.
“When journalism is done right, those are the stories that should be told,” Quiñones says. “I won my first Emmy for that story.”
Quiñones has won 6 more Emmys and also spent 10 years reporting for Peter Jennings in Nicaragua.
“Despite all the awards I’ve received, the one show everyone knows me for now is WWYD,” Quiñones says. “Doing this show reminds us that with all the progress we have made, we still have a long way to go.”
Quiñones tells his story to remind others to always persevere, and no matter how tough things get, to just keep pushing.