After graduating from Yale University, a young Anderson Cooper had a friend make him a fake press pass so he could travel overseas and report on conflicts.
Today, the anchor of Anderson Cooper 360 on CNN has a real press pass and the resources of a major news organization behind him as he travels to conflicts around the world.
But on Monday night, Cooper, 46, talked to an audience of about 6,000 in College Park Center mostly about never forgetting the real people at the heart of any big story.
He recalled a time that he came upon a family of skeletons in Rwanda and after looking at the tufts of hair and dried skin, he became fascinated with the dried skin peeling back from a young girl’s skeletal hand. So he took a photo. And a man behind him took his photo and told him to look at what he saw.
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“I realized I had crossed a line,” he said.
Cooper’s appearance was a part of UT Arlington’s Maverick Speaker Series. Krys Boyd, host and managing editor of the KERA/90.1 talk show Think, moderated.
Cooper had been scheduled to speak on Nov. 11 but canceled to go to the Philippines to cover Typhoon Haiyan.
He talked about the reaction on Monday after Michael Sam, a defensive lineman at the University of Missouri, told major news outlets on Sunday that he is gay.
Many commenters said it will now be hard for Sam to be a “gay football player.” What if the word gay was replaced with black or Jewish, Cooper asked.
Cooper said he didn’t hide his sexual orientation from his family and coworkers. “Being born gay is one of the great blessings of my life,” he said.
He joked that he came out when he decided he wanted to get asked out on more dates. Still, he said, there are some “very determined young ladies.”
Cooper also talked about how he felt when his father died when he was 10, and later when his brother committed suicide in front of their mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, while Cooper was a senior at Yale.
“Sometimes I wish I had a physical scar so people would see the pain I felt,” Cooper said. “I know what it’s like to be on the other side of the camera, and it’s not a good feeling.”
He recalled talking to the mother of a girl killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings. The mother told him she was in the shower the next day and saw her daughter’s hand print in the fog on the the window.
“There are times I feel like my heart is too full with the people that I met,” he said.