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NBC News Anchor Returns to Campus to Accept Award

Kelly O’Donnell receives The Alumnae of Northwestern University’s 2014 honor

EVANSTON, Ill. --- NBC News veteran White House and Capitol Hill correspondent Kelly O’Donnell returned to her alma mater recently to receive the top honor awarded by The Alumnae of Northwestern University.

“It has been a joy to come back to campus,” O’Donnell said, reminiscing in her address about her days at Northwestern and highlights of her career. “When you come back, it triggers memories. I almost feel as though I am back in my student days.”

The Alumnae of Northwestern University’s 2014 Alumnae Award was presented during a program in O’Donnell’s honor held at Evanston’s Hilton Garden Inn. She is the 39th recipient of the award, given every year since 1976 to an outstanding alumna “who has made significant contributions in her field and who has attained national recognition.”   

Before O’Donnell’s talk, introductory remarks, filled with pride and colored with humor, were offered by Janet Bilandic, president of The Alumnae of Northwestern University; University Provost Daniel Linzer; and Bradley Hamm, dean of Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications.

The work the award-winning journalist did at WNUR (Northwestern’s FM radio station) as an undergraduate gave her, she said, her first lessons in “challenging authority.”

“Northwestern has showed me the many possibilities of life through a patchwork of classes and exposures,” O’Donnell said.

The high-powered journalist has been challenging authority ever since those WNUR days, she said, noting the importance of being respectful in the process. 

As a political reporter, O’Donnell traveled extensively with President George W. Bush and the campaigns of Senators John McCain, John Kerry and Robert (Bob) Dole; she also covered both inaugurations of President Barack Obama. Among her notable interviews: Presidents Bill Clinton and Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and first ladies Laura Bush and Rosalyn Carter. O’Donnell and Dole -- now 91-- she said, remain on friendly terms today.

From Capitol Hill, O’Donnell has provided extensive coverage on every major issue, including the federal government shutdown, fiscal crises and the long national debates over Obama’s healthcare law, immigration and gun rights. 

Expressing her gratefulness for the award continually during her talk, O’Donnell vowed to do even more to be worthy of the recognition.

(For more on O’Donnell’s recent campus visit, go to the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications website).


In 1987, O’Donnell received her bachelor of science in education degree from Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy, in studies focused on journalism and public policy. As a correspondent for NBC News, she has reported on a wide variety of national and world events, including five presidential campaigns, the Sept. 11 attacks, the Oklahoma City bombing and the O.J. Simpson trial. She traveled with Pope John Paul II and covered Queen Elizabeth’s Jubilee. During the Iraq war, O’Donnell was embedded with the Third Infantry Division, reporting from Baghdad and Qatar and aboard three aircraft carriers. She has also covered both summer and winter Olympic games.

Beyond her coverage of national and world events in Washington as a correspondent for NBC News, O’Donnell has reported on many high-profile races from New York City mayor to California governor. She covered New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s re-election campaign and the political fallout from the bridge traffic scandal.

Before her assignment in Washington, O’Donnell was based in New York and Los Angeles with extended postings in London and Denver. She also has served as news anchor for the weekend edition of “Today” and other NBC news broadcasts, and has appeared as a panelist on “Meet the Press” and “The Chris Matthews Show.”

O’Donnell’s work on the 2008 presidential elections earned an Emmy and National Headliner Award. She received the 2009 New Hampshire Primary Award for Political Reporting. She has twice been part of the “NBC Nightly News” team honored with an Edward R. Murrow Award. Also, her feature reporting has been honored twice by the Los Angeles Press Club. O’Donnell has been inducted into both the Cleveland Press Club Hall of Fame and the Ohio Radio/Television Broadcasters Hall of Fame.


The Alumnae of Northwestern University is an all-volunteer organization of women that raises funds for a wide range of projects to benefit the University and shares the University’s academic resources with the community through its Continuing Education program. Founded in 1916, The Alumnae has given more than $6 million to the University in the form of grants, fellowships, scholarships and an endowed professorship, as well as providing funds for special University projects and summer internships. For more information, visit The Alumnae website at

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