By Emily Knitter
Ten Olympic games. Traveling in an RV for three days with Bono, the lead singer of U2. The “TODAY” show. St. Bonaventure University.
What do these have in common? Kerry (Donovan) Byrnes.
A ’93 journalism and mass communication graduate, Byrnes’ lifelong love of storytelling has manifested into a life worthy of a story itself.
A producer for the “TODAY” show, her workday often starts on the 4:45 a.m. train from Connecticut to New York City. While most people are still sleeping, Byrnes is fielding emails based on the day’s news and checking in with each department to ensure it is ready for the morning’s guest or concert segment.
“It’s all live, so hopefully things go according to plan,” she said.
Although today Byrnes sits behind the scenes of the live show, she still remembers when she would sit by a television to watch it.
“I have been a loyal ‘TODAY’ show viewer since college,” she said. “I always had 8:30 a.m. classes Monday, Wednesday and Friday, so I would start my day with Katie Couric and Bryant Gumble. I was attracted to the variety, news, human interest, entertainment; ‘TODAY’ had everything I was looking for.”
Byrnes’ career path has been the result of a childhood passion that never dissipated.
“Ever since I was young, I have loved television,” she said. “I was fascinated by the way it was put together, and the stories that shows told. The way to tell a great story is through writing and, for me, whether it’s a script for a sitcom or a breaking news story, the way it’s told is the way to connect with viewers. When I realized what I loved about television were the stories, I knew that was what I wanted to do.”
Along with knowing her career path as a child, Byrnes also had an idea of where she wanted to attend college.
“My first words may have been ‘Go Bona’s!’” she said. “One of my father’s best friends, Willie McNeece (’65), went to Bona’s and from the time I was very young, talk always centered on the Bonnies.”
It only took one visit over Spring Weekend when she was in high school for Byrnes to be sure St. Bonaventure was the university for her.
“I had a few friends from Wilton High School that were in their freshman year at Bonaventure at the time, so it was great to meet up with them and watch a girls lacrosse game and tour the campus,” she said. “I was hooked!”
Byrnes’ career has spanned myriad historical events and changes.
“We have had a president impeached; Columbine, the first of too many school shootings; 9/11; the first African-American president elected; so many historical events I can’t even count,” she said. “I have also been so lucky in my career to have been at the epicenter of incredible moments: I have covered 10 Olympics; spent three days in an RV through Nebraska with the lead singer of U2 while he educated high school students about the AIDS epidemic in Africa; covered presidential conventions, concerts, celebrity interviews, and so many heartbreaking stories, but many more joyful ones.”
Before working for “TODAY,” Byrnes was a White House producer for NBC News in Washington, D.C.
“After spending a couple years traveling with President Clinton, I felt I needed a change,” she said. “I started exploring options in New York and ‘TODAY’ was at the top of my list.”
Ask Byrnes for advice for high school or college students, and her response exemplifies the lessons she has learned over a lifetime of experience.
Her first suggestion is to “find something you love then figure out how to get paid for doing it.”
As she rides the train back to Connecticut after a long, successful day at “TODAY,” the rest of her advice echoes the trajectory of her career.
“Don’t be afraid to work hard,” she said. “People look for the ones that put in the time, the ones who don’t mind logging the extra hours, working weekends, late nights, holidays. Advocate for yourself and don’t expect someone to hand a job to you, you have to earn it.”
But most importantly?
“Good things happen to good people. Be aggressive, but be kind,” she said.
About the University: The nation’s first Franciscan university, we believe in the goodness of every person and in the ability of every person to do extraordinary things. St. Bonaventure University cultivates graduates who are confident and creative communicators, collaborative leaders and team members, and innovative problem solvers who are respectful of themselves, others, and the diverse world around them. Named the #1 regional university value in New York and #2 in the North by U.S. News and World Report, we are establishing pathways to internships, graduate schools and careers in the context of our renowned liberal arts tradition.
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