Back in the day when wearing camouflage was not just a semiannual senior tradition but rather the permanent attire for students drafted to Vietnam, senior Erica Gerard scurried around the Paly campus collecting stories from her Campanile staff writers covering the war abroad. As The Campanile’s editor-in-chief from 1972 to 1973, Erica Gerard, now Erica Gerard Di Bona, developed journalistic skills that would propel her career as a powerful woman in the news industry.
According to Di Bona, journalism came naturally to her at a young age, as it suited her curiosity.
“I really liked having access to what people were thinking, and what the opinions were and writing, and journalism combined all of those aspects,” Di Bona said.
During her years at Paly, she wrote for The Campanile as well as The Palo Alto Times, a daily newspaper for Palo Alto and its neighboring cities. After showing her dedication to and aptitude for journalism, Di Bona says that she was clearly a qualified candidate for the position of editor-in-chief of The Campanile. However, according to Di Bona, the role was not traditionally given to girls.
“It was a really big deal when I got nominated and elected to be the first woman editor [in 12 years],” Di Bona said.
Despite the controversy, Di Bona was a motivated leader and recalls working every day after school on the newspaper. The position also gave her an opportunity to build confidence and work on her personal skills.
“I was a little bit shy growing up, so it gave me a chance to talk to people and have some backing behind me,” Di Bona said.
Di Bona’s Paly journalism experience combined with her strong work ethic soon led her to the communications department at University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), and then immediately to a job at CBS after interning at the company in her final quarter at UCLA.
“[The journalism background] was a key piece of what I had coming into [the television business],” Di Bona said.
While at CBS, Di Bona worked her way up the ranks, starting as a typist in the promotions department during her internship. When offered the job, Di Bona began in the news department, working on the assignment desk and doing background research before the reporters went out to various locations. She soon transferred into the programming department, where she became an associate producer and executive manager of magazine shows, then six to 20 minute segments.
“At one point I was working for five or six shows, and every show won an Emmy,” Di Bona said.
Di Bona cites her experience in high school as helpful to her job at CBS because she constantly had to find trustworthy people to hire.
“I could read a resume and read between the lines because I was trained journalistically to read between the lines and know what was really going on,” Di Bona said.
Although Di Bona no longer works as a journalist, she has not given up writing. She is currently working on a novel, a fictionalized memoir, told through the medium of thank you notes. She has become very familiar with writing thank you notes, as she sends out notes acknowledging others’ good deeds everyday.
“I realized that most people just want to be engaged,” Di Bona said. “They want to be seen, they want to be appreciated, or they want to be heard. That’s part of what my thank you notes are for, and that’s what journalism does too.”
Di Bona continues to respect journalists for their service to the public.
“[Journalists are] the ones who keep our world straight,” Di Bona said. “If we don’t have that accountability, we don’t have any way to judge where we’re floating in things.”
Di Bona reflects positively on her high school journalism career and recognizes how it helped her build the skills, such as reading between the lines and personal presentation, that lead her to professional success in journalism. She encourages current high schoolers to pursue their passions just as she did.
“Try and get with the smartest people that you can,” Di Bona said. “Try to find the community of people who are interested in the same things, so that you get to expand your world. And use this time to really play with and enjoy the things you love because those may be what guide you through your career.”