Chris Bell Presents College of Communication Commencement Address
Former U.S. Representative discusses how his journalism background prepared him for a public service career
Former U.S. representative Chris Bell, an alumnus of The University of Texas at Austin College of Communication, presented the College's fall 2012 commencement address at noon on Saturday, Dec. 8 in the Frank Erwin Center, 1701 Red River St.
Bell, who graduated from the College with a journalism degree in 1982, spoke about how communication affects the state of politics.
"We have to accept that we have polarization, but the debate should at least be honest, Bell said. "And just because someone has a difference of opinion, they are not necessarily wrong or evil."
College Dean Roderick P. Hart said an election year is an apt time for a former political leader, such as Bell, to serve as commencement keynote speaker.
"Choosing Chris Bell as our 2012 fall commencement speaker is especially propitious at a moment when we've just celebrated democracy though elections," Dean Hart said. "Communication and the media played – and will continue to play – a central role in helping citizens make civic decisions."
A Foundation for Success
Bell also discussed how his journalism education helped him transition into a public service career.
"There could not have been a better background for public service than journalism and law," Bell said. "Working as a reporter, you learn to gather information about a wide variety of subjects very quickly, digest that information and communicate about it. You often have to do the same thing as a lawmaker."
When he was a journalism student, Bell said he especially valued hearing about his professors' real-life reporting experiences. In fact, he would later draw upon those examples as a reporter.
Bell also was an officer of Phi Delta Theta International Fraternity and the Interfraternity Council, as well as a member of the Texas Cowboys.
Foreshadowing his political career, Bell worked to reinstate The University of Texas at Austin's student government. As a senior and president of the Interfraternity Council, Bell used his connections with other student leaders to create an alliance called "Group Effort for Student Government." The group wrote a new constitution, which students then voted on. Bell worked diligently to secure the Greek vote, while other student leaders focused on their respective areas.
"The constitution was approved overwhelmingly in the spring of '82 and student government has been in place since," Bell said. "I consider that to be a gift from me and the others who worked to make it a reality our senior year."
As a result of his efforts, Bell was named Omicron Delta Kappa's Leader of the Year.
A Career in Journalism, Law and Public Service
After graduating in 1982, Bell began his broadcasting career in Ardmore, Okla. and then moved to Amarillo, Texas to work as a television reporter and anchor. In 1988, he moved to Houston to attend the South Texas College of Law. When he was not attending classes, he worked as a courthouse reporter for KTRH NewsRadio 740.
His hard work earned him the Texas Associated Press' "Best Radio Reporter in the State" award; a clerkship with the criminal firm of Hinton, Sussman & Bailey; and a law degree. After graduating and passing the bar exam in 1992, he joined the civil litigation practice of Alexander & McEvily.
In 1993, he opened his own practice, which would eventually become the partnership of Bell & Henry. Three years later, he was elected to the Houston City Council, chairing the Ethics Committee and Council Committee on Customer Service and Initiatives.
From 2003 to 2005, Bell served as a Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives for Texas District 25 in Houston. After his district was redrawn in 2005, he lost his congressional seat. In 2006, he was the Democratic nominee for Texas Governor.
Bell returned to private practice in 2007.
Laura Byerley, (512) 471-2182