The halls of a Fresh Meadows high school were abuzz as a famed alumna stopped by to reminisce with faculty and chat with the next generation of students earlier this month.
Journalist and television personality Julie Chen visited her alma mater, St. Francis Preparatory High School, on Dec. 19. The Queens native began the afternoon by browsing through yearbooks from 1983-1987: the formative years she spent walking the school’s halls.
The daughter of Chinese immigrants, Chen was raised in Bayside and graduated from St. Francis Prep before moving on to the University of Southern California, where she majored in broadcast journalism. After an internship at CBS and working as a desk assistant and later producer at ABC, she traveled to Dayton, OH, where she worked as a news anchor.
She returned to the New York market in 1999, when she took a job as the anchor of CBS’ “Morning News” and later as co-host of “The Early Show.” Today, she co-hosts “The Talk” and hosts reality TV show, “Big Brother.”
Alongside childhood best friend and fellow alumna Joann Petz, Chen embarked on a tour of the school with school principal Patrick McLaughlin and president Brother Leonard Conway, stopping along the way to share memories with faculty and fellow grads who returned to the school to teach. A stop at the school’s “Hall of Fame,” where Chen was inducted in 2012, and her regular cafeteria table were among the destinations.
The final stop was to one of the school’s classrooms, where a group of curious students were awaiting Chen’s arrival. The alumna gave the teens a synopsis of her professional career and later opened up the floor for questions.
Chen told the group she knew she wanted to be a news reporter at an early age, remembering sharing her dream with her classmates at JHS 194 in Whitestone.
“I knew I wanted to be a news reporter. I knew I wanted to be in front of a camera,” she said.
After acknowledging this is not the case for all students, Chen told students who may be worried about choosing a career path to explore anything related to their passions or strengths at an early age through internships or other hands-on opportunities.
When asked what was the biggest hurdle she had to overcome, Chen said it was an experience with racism during her time working in Ohio.
After three months on the job as a general assignment reporter, Chen learned that the news director who hired her was to be moved to a new position. When she approached the new director about getting time at the anchor desk, she was denied and told that, because she was Chinese, she was “unrelatable” to the local audience.
Chen said she approached the situation with positivity, working twice as hard and putting together an impressive resume tape. And things worked in her favor, she remembered: it was soon thereafter she left for New York to take a job as an anchor on CBS.
“You have to remember where you came from,” Chen said. “[Queens] is where I came from — and I’m proud of it.”