Seema Mody is now global markets reporter for the CNBC financial news channel, but she said she never anticipated it when she graduated from Valley Catholic High School back in 2003.
"A commencement address is an open invitation to pretend to know more than you do," she said to laughter as she spoke to the 84 graduates in the Class of 2018, plus their families and friends gathered in the school gym in Beaverton.
"Looking back … is a slightly uncomfortable experience. When I sat in your seat many years ago, I knew exactly what I was going to be — a star doctor, perhaps a dermatologist. I had acne growing up, so I thought it would be a good way to give free samples and solve the problem."
But after premed studies at the University of Washington, "I started to realize this may not be for me, but I stuck it out."
She did earn a bachelor's degree in biological sciences in 2007, "but I had to let go of my dream of practicing medicine."
Her first job was at Accenture, a global management consulting company.
"After a couple of stops, I found my true calling in journalism," she said.
"There is no straight path from where you are seated today to where you are going. That's OK. That is what keeps life interesting — the journey, not the destination."
She advised the graduates to be nimble in an era of changing technology — and also develop lifelong relationships.
"Friendships matter," she said. "Having the right friendships matter even more."
Mody is said to be the first South Asian on-air TV personality.
Mody has returned periodically to her alma mater — her parents still live in Portland — but the June 9 visit was her first commencement address at Valley Catholic.
Starting fresh in India
Although she had made previous family visits to India, when she came to Mumbai for an audition with CNBC-TV18 in July 2011, "going there alone was something new."
She arrived at 3 a.m. "in the scorching heat," and her hotel room was not ready at that hour, so she had to prepare in the hotel's restroom.
"Within a couple of hours, you have arrived at the studio of a major TV network, sitting in front of a camera and about to give an audition that will make or break your television career," she said.
Three years later, she was back at CNBC's headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., across the Hudson River from New York City, when she was assigned to CNBC Europe. This time she had three weeks to prepare for London, where she became co-anchor for "Worldwide Exchange."
She returned to New York a year later, where she took on such weighty topics as Bitcoin and global trade.
"I did not let my limited knowledge of a certain subject stop me from saying yes to a certain opportunity," she said.
"What may seem like an easy ride has definitely come with challenges."
Among them was China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which routinely offered no response to Mody's requests for comment — until April 3, when the administration of President Donald Trump outlined its plan for tariffs on a range of Chinese goods as part of a crackdown on what Trump sees as unfair trade practices. (U.S. officials moved Friday, June 15, to impose the $50 billion in tariffs, which some fear may trigger a trade war between the world's two largest economies.)
That same afternoon, Mody got a call from the secretary to China's ambassador to the United States, who said Cui Tiankai wanted to speak directly on television that day. Her live interview with the ambassador on CNBC was quoted widely by other news organizations.
"I was in disbelief. The Chinese decided now they want to speak — and they wanted to speak with me," Mody said. "I learned that persistence and patience can pay off."
High school is a prologue to college and the rest of life, she said.
"What matters is your dedication, passion and willingness to work hard and stand up," Mody said.
"There will always be an element of fear. But you can decide how much that fear will take over your life."
Influence of teachers
Both in her public remarks and in a brief interview afterward, Mody spoke fondly about some of the teachers at Valley Catholic — all of whom are still on the staff — who inspired her.
• Kathy Johnson, an English teacher there since 1992: "Mrs. Johnson taught me how to write and inspired me to study the English language through teaching of Shakespeare."
Afterward, Mody acknowledged that Johnson's influence manifested itself some years later.
"She is an English teacher extraordinaire who played a pivotal role and inspire me to look into journalism — and also taught me how to write," Monday said. "Sometimes it happens early on; in my case, the seed was planted."
• Kipp Johnson, a math teacher since 1986 and department chairman: "Mr. Johnson in the math department still doesn't have very much hair," she said with a laugh. "Some things don't change."
"He is amazing — relentless, but in a good way," Mody said later. "His tenacity is an important quality to have. It was a pleasure to take his class."
• Ed Braun, a religion teacher since 1992 and department chairman: "Mr. Braun taught me how to embrace different religions and see life through different cultural lenses. Plus he taught me how to laugh at corny jokes — that's very important."
• Sisters Juliana Monti and Denise Klaas (elementary school), both longtime music teachers; Sister Juliana is director of the music school. Mody said they taught her how to use her stomach to aid her singing.
"It's a skill I still use today when I speak in front of millions of people on TV," she said.
Mody did say after her talk there was one thing she wished she had learned while in high school — something that counts in her current job.
"I wish I had learned more about Wall Street and also basic finances," she said. "With parents and guidance, you learn it in some way or another."
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