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Emmy award-winning alumnus returns to Marymount

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One of the happiest moments of Justin Kenny’s life was the day he learned he had been accepted to Marymount University in Arlington. For a Rhode Island native interested in journalism, it seemed like the perfect college: a small liberal arts school with a communications department, next to the nation’s capital. Still, his lackluster grades had him worried.


“To me, you will always be that tall, skinny kid … whose byline was all over the Blue Banner, (the school’s student newspaper).”

 “The admissions officer very diplomatically told me, ‘I still can’t believe it happened, but you were accepted today,’ ” recalled Kenny.


Two decades later, the now award-winning journalist returned to his alma mater to deliver the annual Marya McLaughlin lecture Oct. 19. His former professor, Dr. Janet Fallon, presented him with the award.


“To me, you will always be that tall, skinny kid … whose byline was all over the Blue Banner, (the school’s student newspaper),” she said. “He was an example of someone who was highly motivated, self-disciplined, reliable (and) responsible. It is no accident that he is where he is today.”


Kenny began as an avid sports reporter, but eventually switched his focus to international news. During college, he interned both during the summer and during the school year at different news outlets. “There I felt for the first time a strong sense of obligation to shine a light on the world’s conflicts and humanitarian crises,” he said.


He graduated in 1996 with degrees in English and mass media communications, but still had trouble finding a job. Encouragement from his professor, Paul Byers, led him to stick with his dream career. Eventually, he found work as a freelancer, then as a producer, and finally as an editor.


The pinnacle of his career was working as the foreign and defense editor for the “NewsHour” at PBS. It was there in 2015 that Kenny won a Peabody Award for his work on Europe’s refugee crisis. The same year, he won an Emmy for outstanding business and economic reporting for a piece on the Chinese takeover of a Virginia-based pork business, Smithfield Foods. He won another Emmy for investigative journalism by exposing dangerous gold-mining conditions in rural Philippines.


But the grueling hours at his job kept him away from his wife, Jennifer, and their children. After much deliberation, he left the position and started his own production company “Small Footprint Films.” He continues to do what he loves, on his own schedule.


After the lecture, Marymount communications students peppered Kenny with questions, including, “Do you need to speak foreign languages to be a foreign correspondent?” and “Do you have to pay for your own airfare?”


Kenny advised them all to follow their passions. “Don't let setbacks define you,” he said. “They happened when you were 18, and they’ll happen when you’re 65. Learn from them and move on.” 


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016