‘What would you do?’ John Quiñones visits Illini Union


Caden Bargowski

John Quiñones, ABC news correspondent and “What Would You Do?” host, speaks at the Illini Union on Thursday.

By Ashleigh Kendrick, Staff Writer

ABC news correspondent and “What Would You Do?” show host, John Quiñones, visited the Illini Union on Thursday night to share his story and answer questions from students and fans of the show. 

Before the event, fans and students alike lined up outside the Union’s I-Room waiting in anticipation to meet Quiñones. Faraheen Ahmed, sophomore in AHS, was one of those students. 

“I watch it all the time on YouTube, I think I’ve watched almost all of the videos because I really like John Quiñones,” Ahmed said. 

Bella Hoffmann, freshman in ACES, said she was also excited to see Quiñones as she has watched him on television with her parents since she was younger. 

“I’ve watched ‘What Would You Do?’ since I was really little,” Hoffmann said. “So it’s really cool to be in the same room as him because I’ve watched him for a really long time.”

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The event began with the showing of small clips from the show as it teased the return of “What Would You Do?” Quiñones then walked on stage to greet excited fans.  

Quiñones spent the first hour telling the audience about his early years and his journey into the world of journalism. 

Quiñones said he was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas. He recalled his elementary school years, stating that he entered the first grade only speaking Spanish. Quiñones said the teachers would punish the students for speaking Spanish as they only wanted them to speak English. 

“Do you know what that does to your identity?” Quiñones asked. “To think that your language is somehow less than? It was rough.” 

Quiñones would learn to speak English, but he still had an accent. He said the words of Martin Luther King Jr. helped him persevere. 

“I remember the words of Martin Luther King; (he) once said, ‘In times of adversity, you gotta have faith, and faith is taking that first step,’” Quiñones said.

Quiñones said his first step was joining the drama class at his high school. He tried out and was chosen for the role of Romeo in “Romeo and Juliet.” Quiñones said his role in the play helped him learn how to enunciate, slow down his speech and project his voice. 

In college, Quiñones said he worked as a pharmacy delivery man and the owner of the pharmacy helped him acquire an internship at a radio station. As an intern, Quiñones did not speak on air at first; however, at night, Quiñones said he would practice. 

“I would sneak into the control room, where they had these beautiful microphones … and I got to practice,” Quiñones said. 

Eventually, he was allowed to record something to go on air for the first time. 

“There would be some new medicine out, and in five seconds I had to tell you where to get the medicine,” Quiñones said. “I got to say, ‘now available at Walgreens.’” 

From there, Quiñones said he attended Columbia University where he worked toward his master’s degree. 

Quiñones said that during one of the night lectures, the president of CBS News came to give a guest lecture. After the lecture, Quiñones said he approached him and asked for an interview for his master’s project; however, Quiñones had an underlying objective — he wanted to give the president of CBS news his resume.  

“I show up at his office, and I do this little interview for 15 minutes,” Quiñones said. “And then at the end, I said, ‘Oh, by the way, I’m graduating in May and I brought along my resume.’”

Quiñones said the next day, the vice president of CBS News called him to offer him a job at CBS in Chicago. While at CBS, Quiñones said he was finally able to cover the story of immigration. 

Quiñones said he went undercover as a Mexican immigrant, went to Mexico and paid a smuggler $300 for fake documents. He then floated across the Rio Grande and caught a bus to Chicago. Quiñones was hired at a restaurant surrounded by speculations that the owner had seven undocumented workers that he had not paid in 17 weeks. 

“By day, I’m washing dishes with a hidden camera, and then at night I went down and slept in the basement with the other seven Mexican workers,” Quiñones said. “I started interviewing them in Spanish about their lives, and in tears, they told me how they’re being held as indentured servants.” 

Quiñones said the next day, he returned to work in a suit with a camera crew to talk to the owner about what was going on in the restaurant, but did not receive an answer. After his story aired, Quiñones said the United States government shut down the restaurant, and gave the workers the money they were owed and temporary visas to remain in the United States while they worked toward their residency. 

Since then, Quiñones said he has traveled around the world trying to talk to not only the “the movers and shakers,” but also the moved and shaken. These stories inspired him to come up with the ABC show, “What Would You Do?” 

After concluding his story, Quiñones answered questions about his fashion, journalism and the inspiration behind scenarios on his show. The night concluded with fans lining up to take photos with Quiñones. 

Cindy Mu, sophomore in LAS, said she felt inspired by the advice he gave the audience.

“I think it was inspirational, he gave a lot of really good advice I think not just for journalism students but also, I’m pre-med, and I think what he said applies to that (too),” Mu said.

One piece of advice Quiñones left the audience with was to keep pushing to achieve their goals. 

“You just gotta keep pushing and hoping,” Quiñones said. “Don’t take no for an answer … and surround yourselves with people who believe like you do.” 


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