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New Exclusive Video Series: Luminaries Reveal Personal Experiences That Launched Careers

Stony brook university 5 questions landing page

New Exclusive Video Series: Luminaries Reveal Personal Experiences That Launched Careers

Billy Joel, Alan Alda, Eric Holder, Rukmini Callimachi Among Those Giving Candid, Compelling Interviews

5 Questions With
 “5 Questions With” website

STONY BROOK, N.Y., October 27, 2016  

Billy Joel

 reveals that the first time he realized how much he loved performing was when he was in third grade and sang “Hound Dog” on his school stage to the delight of fourth grade girls. 
Ann Curry
 discusses what it was like being the first in her family to go to college and her introduction to a campus environment. 
Richard Leakey
 recalls his first important fossil discovery as a 4-year-old. And Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist 

Jules Feiffer
 recalls how the Army changed his life and influenced his decision to become a satirist.

These four distinguished individuals chose to recount these transformative experiences not for “Access Hollywood,” “TMZ,” or People. Rather they are among 40 notables participating in a new web-based video series called “
5 Questions With
” produced by Stony Brook University on Long Island in New York. On Thursday, October 27, Stony Brook will launch the series featuring exclusive, thought-provoking video interviews with these luminaries who have achieved worldwide prominence in their fields and have visited the campus to speak at student and community enrichment events and activities.

In interviews in which each nationally and globally recognized thought leader is asked a similar set of questions, they reveal intimate, little-known details about their formative experiences, inspirations, mentorship, career discoveries and personal insights on how higher education impacts the global future. The site,, offers intuitive navigation that enables the user to browse interviews sequentially or by topic. One-click sharing allows instant dissemination via social media. A subscription box permits users to sign up for notifications as new videos appear.

​“As a leading research University, Stony Brook offers our students a multitude of experiences that help influence their life and career choices,” said Stony Brook University President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. “This series provides our students with a behind-the-scenes look at how distinguished luminaries arrived at the choices that got them to where they are today, and who helped them reach their current career pinnacle. Their stories are inspirational and I am so pleased they decided to share them with the Stony Brook University community.”

The series will launch with a trailer and a website featuring 19 of the 40 videos that have been collected during the past 18 months, including those featuring 
Rukmini CallimachiEric HolderSonia Sanchez
 and President Stanley
. In December, and every month thereafter, the University will release two-to-three new videos featuring others, among them Michael Rezendes, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Carl Safina, Will Tye and Roger Rosenblatt.

The series was conceived when Stony Brook’s Marie Colvin Center for International Reporting invited Emmy Award-winning broadcast journalist Ann Curry as a featured speaker, and the Office of Communications and Marketing was seeking a way to extend the impact of her visit beyond the one-hour talk.

“As our team continued to promote the many distinguished luminaries that were coming to campus, we wanted to broaden their influence beyond the ‘moment in time’ of their presence here,” said Nicholas Scibetta, Vice President for Communications and Marketing and Chief Communications Officer at Stony Brook. “We are opening a window into the lives of successful professionals from diverse fields who have shared formative experiences, career discoveries and insights on how specific moments and experiences guided them along their path in life, and how college and career experiences enriched and shaped them.”


Featured soundbites include:

  • Broadcast journalist Ann Curry, recounts her experience of being on a University campus: “It opened up an entire world — a way of looking at learning that was different from what I had experienced until then.” She went on to talk about who she identified as mentors and how they helped her grow, saying, “I think of these individuals who were my professors, teaching assistants and even my classmates. I can see in each one something I needed to learn and I opened myself to that, allowing them to mentor me in that manner.” 
  • Pianist, singer-songwriter and composer, Billy Joel, recalling when he first realized he enjoyed performing: “When I was in third grade I got up on stage and I did my Elvis Presley impression and I sang ‘Hound Dog’ and the girls in the fourth grade started screaming and I said to myself ‘there’s something going on here’ — this is kind of cool if the girls in the fourth grade are screaming for a kid in the third grade.” 
  • Foreign correspondent for The New York Times Rukmini Callimachi, covering Islamic extremism, talking about the importance of being a mentor: “I try very hard to be a mentor to younger journalists because it was particularly hard for me to start in this profession. I started quite late. I was 27 years old when I finally decided after many years of kind of dawdling in academia when I finally decided to be a journalist. So when people reach out to me, even though now — as soon as I got to The New York Times kind of the flow of email became much larger than I can almost handle — I’ve tried very hard to respond to them — and especially to young women. Especially to them; because I think that there are not enough voices that can guide you and that can tell you, ‘you can be true to yourself. You can be true to your femininity and still do something like war reporting.’” 
  • Famed conservationist and paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey recalled his first important fossil discovery and his disappointment when his mother, Louise Leakey, took it from him because it was “too important for a 4-year-old to be digging up.” He reflected on his own experiences, saying, “I’ve done well and you can do well — just pick what it is you want to do and do your best, and if you find you’re not doing very well don’t be shy to back off and do something else.” 
  • Celebrated journalist 
    Soledad O’Brien
     on how mentor perspectives can be helpful: “Mentors reframe things. ‘Have you thought about it this way?’ ‘Have you played it out this way?’ ‘Did you think about this?’ And so I think that for me, I could be helpful to people, especially who are years younger than me, to kind of just talk about other options, or talk about really awful mistakes that I’ve made that maybe they could avoid making if they just think about their circumstances.”


More Outtakes:

  • Syndicated cartoonist and author Jules Feiffer, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1986 as America’s leading editorial cartoonist, recounting the experience that most influenced his career: “I got drafted into the United States Army on Jan. 19, 1951, when they didn’t understand what they were doing, nor did I, and I found myself in a system where nobody said what they meant, where everybody lied to you, where nobody cared if you lived or died, and which I was not going to survive unless I reinvented myself from a feckless, know-nothing young man into a social and political satirist in order to document the constant humiliating experiences that were happening to me in a comedic way so that it wouldn’t sound like I was whining, which I was.” 
  • Author, social critic and political activist 
    Naomi Wolf
     talking about how a college experience influenced her career: “I went to Yale and I was not from a privileged background. So among the wonderful things that I got at Yale — something not so great – was that I encountered a class hierarchy for the first time and a gender hierarchy really for the first time. I grew up in a very sort of progressive, open community in San Francisco. And this was a shock. And so I guess what I took with me for the rest of my career was how bad rigid class and gender and racial hierarchies were, and how much damage they did and how great a real meritocracy was. So that’s something I’ve sought to work on through my nonfiction and scholarship for the last 25 years.” 

  • Yusef Salaam
    , a leader, motivator, proponent of social justice and one of the teens falsely accused and convicted in the “Central Park Jogger” case reflecting on an early experience that influenced his career: “Being able to share this, so to speak, tragedy with young people especially, we’ve realized that — and when I say ‘we’ I mean, many of the guys from the Central Park Five have gotten together and chosen to, you know share their stories with students from all walks of life. But we realized that, if we can just save one person by using our story, by telling them about what happened to us, by telling them about, you know, how we took that negative and turned it into a positive, then it’s a blessing.” 
  • “Bacteria Whisperer” 
    Bonnie Bassler
    , a Princeton University professor and an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, remembering feeling lost when she arrived at college: “I thought I wanted to be a vet because I loved animals. I loved finding animals, bringing them up, taking care of animals, seeing wild animals. And so when I got to school, I enrolled in the vet curriculum. And I lasted less than a semester because what I realized is that I like live animals. And so I didn’t like cutting them up. I didn’t like memorizing bones. And so the experience was that I was very lost. I had thought since I was a kid that I wanted to be this one thing. And then I went to college and realized I didn’t want to be that thing, but I didn’t have a second plan. And so I think what was so wonderful about college is that you could explore broadly. And so since I was in the biology major, I wandered into a lab and somebody put up a pipette in my hand and I never turned around because I found this thing I loved and it was by luck. It was not by a plan.”


Watch all 19 videos and subscribe for new video releases at



About Stony Brook University

Part of the State University of New York system, Stony Brook University encompasses 200 buildings on 1,450 acres. Since welcoming its first incoming class in 1957, the University has grown tremendously, now with more than 25,700 students and 2,500 faculty. Its membership in the prestigious Association of American Universities (AAU) places Stony Brook among the top 62 research institutions in North America. U.S. News & World Report ranks Stony Brook among the top 100 universities in the nation and top 50 public universities, and Kiplinger names it one of the 35 best values in public colleges. One of four University Center campuses in the SUNY system, Stony Brook is part of the management team of Brookhaven National Laboratory, putting it in an elite group of universities that run federal research and development laboratories. The Center for World University Rankings lists Stony Brook in the top 1 percent of institutions worldwide.  It is one of only 10 universities nationwide recognized by the National Science Foundation for combining research with undergraduate education. As the largest single-site employer on Long Island, Stony Brook is a driving force of the regional economy, with an annual economic impact of $4.65 billion, generating nearly 60,000 jobs, and accounts for nearly 4 percent of all economic activity in Nassau and Suffolk counties, and roughly 7.5 percent of total jobs in Suffolk County.​

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