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'USA Today' reporter among guest speakers

Sept. 25, 2003

By Darrell A. Rodriguez, reporter

USA Today will be sending four representatives Friday, including foreign correspondent Jack Kelley, to participate in the four-day Big 12 Student Leadership Conference.

'He lived through a lot of controversy in Iraq, and to hear his stories personally, that means a lot,' said Student Body External Vice President Casey Watts, an Anson junior and programmer for the conference.

USA Today helped with the conference and also is providing a meal for the delegates participating in the conference, Watts said.

Kelley, who will speak at 2 p.m. Friday in the Barfield Drawing Room of the Bill Daniel Student Center, spoke once during Chapel in the fall of 2001 and told stories about his career.

'He was animated and alive,' Debra Knight, a Houston junior, said. 'He keeps your attention.'

Kelley has interviewed 38 heads of state and reported from 96 countries. He has covered all major overseas conflicts and events since 1990, including the Persian Gulf War, the Somalia famine, the Rwandan massacre, South African elections and the United States war in Iraq, according to a USA Today biography.

He has earned five Pulitzer Prize nominations and was a finalist in 2002. He also received the National Headliners Award and the Clarion Award, according to the biography.

Having risked death many times throughout his career, Kelley reported one of his close calls in an article published in the American Journalism Review 'Suicide Mission.'

'Hiding behind a boulder, USA Today's Jack Kelley begins reciting a prayer,' the article said. 'The terrifying image of long-bladed knives crashes into his consciousness. 'How much pain will they inflict before I stop breathing?' he wonders, remembering the sight of bodies in the Balkans with throats slashed, eyes gouged out, men emasculated.'

'He was pretty graphic in his explanations of what happened,' Knight said. 'That would be emotionally disturbing to see the things he's seen and reported on.'

In an article published in Christian Reader Magazine, Kelley explained the role God played in his life as he recounted a story about being pursued by four men while covering a story on organized crime in Moscow.

'I got this vision of an apartment building with the number 925 on it, and an elderly man next door up one flight of stairs,' Kelley said. 'Next thing I knew, I came upon building number 925. Walking in, I found an elderly man on the right who told me to come in until my pursuers passed ... When I sent my interpreter to that apartment the next day to thank the man, she couldn't find him. The manager said the apartment had been empty for more than a year. This was just one of many times God has spared me.'

Kelley will bring collectables, pictures and other artifacts, which he has acquired over his travels, to use with his speech, Watts said.

Even though Kelley will be speaking for the Big 12 Student Leadership Conference, student government leaders have extended the invitation for him speak to all Baylor students.