Veteran newsman shares career insights

ABC correspondent and “What Would You Do?” host Quiñones details humble roots and rise to network stardom — with doses of education and ethics along the way

John Quiñones

Veteran ABC News correspondent John Quiñones proudly holds a UND hockey jersey given to him Monday night by Delta Gamma after his presentation at the Chester Fritz Auditorium. Photo by Jackie Lorentz.

John Quiñones has been all over the world—literally from the North Pole to the South Pole—but this week was the ABC News correspondent’s first time in North Dakota.

He took in the culture of Greater Grand Forks with a dinner at Whitey’s and a mealtime discussion of the ’97 flood with his hosts.

But his true Grand Forks welcome happened when he took the stage at UND’s Chester Fritz Auditorium Monday night and met a flood of applauding fans.

“I have just one word for you: ufda!” Quiñones said with his signature smile, bringing another roar from the crowd.

Barely a seat was bare for the Delta Gamma Foundation/Everson Family Lecture in Values & Ethics, hundreds there to hear from the man who has brought the conversation of ethics into American living rooms since 2008, when Quiñones hosted the first episode of ABC’s “What Would You Do?

The hidden camera program creates an uncomfortable public situation of wrongdoing—abuse, racial attacks, etc.—and documents how passersby react.

Do they step in? Or do they walk on by?

Quiñones explained that this kind of journalism is just one way to illuminate corruption and human rights violations that happen everywhere in America.

“I think when we do our job right as reporters, those are the kinds of stories we should be telling,” Quiñones said.

“I thought it was just amazing. I had watched the show when I was younger and I was a bit star struck at first,” said sophomore music education major Maria Muske from Fairfax, Minn. “I got a little emotional during parts of it, because it was amazing to see how far he had come from his small background.”

John Quiñones

John Quiñones explained that the kind of journalism he displayed on his hit ABC program “What Would You Do?” is one way to illuminate corruption and human rights violations that happen everywhere in America. Photo by Jackie Lorentz.

Humble start

Quiñones shared his story of growing up in a family of Spanish-speaking migrants in San Antonio, Texas, a community ripe with gang violence and crime. Amid poverty and social uncertainty, he gained a strong sense of values through his parents.

“My mother—she was the most compassionate person I’ve ever known in my life,” Quiñones said. “Our door was always open to abused women and runaway kids and wounded animals. When we would ask her why, she would say, ‘Mijo—my son— qué harías tu?’ which in Spanish means, ‘What would you do if you were in their shoes?’”

Quiñones didn’t learn English until he started school at age six, and faced racism all the way through graduation.

“My own teachers would say, ‘John, that’s a wonderful thing that you have this dream of someday being a TV reporter, but we think you should try woodshop or metal shop or auto mechanics.’” Quiñones said. “I wanted to go to college, and my own teachers saw me and they did what people do on my show, ‘What Would You Do?’, and they judged me by the color of my skin and the accent in my voice.”

Quiñones didn’t let anyone slow him down and ultimately enrolled in college and attended graduate school at Columbia University in New York, one of the best journalism schools in the country. He used his education and other learning opportunities to land a television reporting job in Chicago following graduation.

From there, his career took off.

Operations and supply chain management major Caitlyn Vang said she found inspiration in Quiñones’ story.

“I feel like my family can relate to it. My parents grew up in poverty and they emigrated here,” Vang said. “My dad came from nothing and he made something of himself. My parents are people I find very inspirational, and they pushed me and my brothers and sisters to go to college.”

Lectureship beginnings

Quiñones is the third speaker in the Delta Gamma Foundation/Everson Family Lectureship in Values & Ethics. The lectureship was established in 2011 with a $50,000 lead gift from 1966 UND graduate Jacque Geving Everson, which is matched with a grant from the North Dakota Challenge Fund.

Other alumnae, community members and businesses have also given to the endowment, which seeks to bring together the UND campus and community for a conversation about the power of human relationships.

“To me, this is such an important issue, and I find it so exciting to give others the opportunity to explore it,” said Rachel Sjostrand, Delta Gamma director of lectureship and one of the forces behind bringing Quiñones to campus.

Sjostrand follows in the footsteps of her sister Kristen, who helped organize the 2015 Delta Gamma lecture by Elizabeth Smart. Smart’s inspiring story of surviving a brutal abduction and nearly a year of abuse as a child brought in an incredible crowd.

“I was at the event and I thought, I want to do that,” Sjostrand said.

Students say they learned something about themselves from Quiñones through the course of the evening. “It’s okay if we’re scared to do the right thing, but it makes it even more amazing when we do,” Muske said.

And with a standing ovation to top off the night, Grand Forks taught Quiñones a little something—the value of hospitality.