When Hoda Kotb was announced as Matt Lauer’s official replacement for the co-anchor position of the “Today” show on Jan. 2, I literally jumped for joy. It wasn’t just because her promotion was historic — it marked the first time the morning show has been led by two women — but because during her years on the show, Kotb has offered positivity and hope when it was least expected.
While NBC’s move to promote her is rich in progress (it replaces a white man accused of sexual harassment with a woman of color), it is Kotb herself who makes the role and the promotion so special. Kotb is my 2018 role model and should be yours as well because of her lifelong commitment to determination, authenticity and positivity in the face of life’s challenges.
Though her bubbly personality makes her ascension through broadcast television seem inevitable, Kotb has faced both personal and professional obstacles throughout her career. Born to Egyptian parents in Oklahoma, she graduated from Virginia Tech with a degree in journalism and planned to find immediate work in TV broadcasting. In a 2016 interview with now-co-host Savannah Guthrie, however, Kotb explained that after college she drove from city to city for 10 days, facing rejection from 27 news stations before finally landing her first job in Greenville, Mississippi.
“It reminded me that you just need one person to love you, you don’t need everybody,” Kotb said in the interview. “Sometimes you think you need every single person to think you’re good, but you don’t, you need one, and Stan [my Greenville boss] was my one.”
It was that determination in the face of rejection that allowed her Kotb’s star to rise. After working up to a job in New Orleans, she joined NBC in 1998 as a “Dateline” correspondent, eventually moving on in 2008 to co-host the fourth hour of “Today” with Kathie Lee Gifford.
It isn’t just Kotb’s professional perseverance that’s inspiring — it’s also her ability to persist through difficult personal events with the same grit and tenacity. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007, and after undergoing a double mastectomy, decided to share her story publicly on the “Today” show. Even in the face of debilitating illness, Kotb never lost her authenticity, or her ability to take a hard situation and turn it into a positive moment for her viewers.
The genuine spirit of Kotb was never more effective and present, however, than during her last 10 years as co-host with Kathie Lee Gifford. Mornings filled with giant wine glasses, friendly gossip and the near-constant appearance of hot guys were routine, and they opened up the door for a more fun, self-aware model of morning television. While the hour was at first mocked (and parodied by SNL), Kotb brought an authenticity to the ridiculous games and a personable style to her reporting that allowed viewers to connect and find joy.
Now, in 2018, Kotb’s authentic and joyful spirit is more present than ever. She is constantly sharing words of affirmation and love on her Instagram account, expressing gratitude for her health, career, boyfriend and, of course, her new baby, Hayley Joy.
In 2017, Kotb adopted the baby girl at the age of 53 after her dreams of becoming a mother had been delayed by divorce and cancer. By forging her own path and sharing her adoption story on “Today,” Kotb reminded women everywhere that they need not feel confined by the traditional timelines of coupling, motherhood and career fulfillment.
“If I had to describe my year in one word, it would be rebirth, because I feel like my life started in 2017,” she told “Today” last December. “In 2018, I’m looking forward to more firsts with Hayley. I didn’t think I’d have firsts at 53!”
Allthough this is enough to make anyone feel inspired, beyond the lessons her journey teaches, Kotb is the role model we all need in 2018 because of the alternate path she offers for this particularly trying moment in the country’s history.
For many in the United States, 2017 was a hard year. It saw a change in presidential leadership that was rife with scandal, turmoil and division among the country’s citizens, and this tension seemed to permeate all areas of the news, including morning television. While the struggle did lead to national dialogue and activism, it also led to a distinct drop in positivity and hopefulness among all common social discourse channels, whether it be the grave anchors on television or pessimistic friends ranting on Twitter.
One person who didn’t contribute to the negative energy? Hoda Kotb. Even when reporting on difficult stories, she maintained composure and grace while looking for the positive upside to every situation. The nuanced ways she’s expressed this hopeful, positive outlook in the face of adversity is the energy we should all give off in the coming year.
Her promotion to co-anchor is a symbol itself of the positive progress Kotb always seems to believe the world is capable of achieving. Her optimistic outlook isn’t just empty mumbo-jumbo; it’s a real belief that joy and progress can come from even the most trying and impossible of moments. By overcoming adversity, sickness, heartbreak and coworker misconduct, the success of Kotb’s own life and career have become a living testament to the truth of her ideals.
During her first week as an official co-host with Savannah Guthrie, the “Today” show achieved a No. 1 morning rating and an increase in viewership. It seems that the rest of America is already recognizing the rare gifts Kotb brings to morning reporting and are latching on to her fresh outlook in the New Year. If you’re like me, you’ll be watching, eager to soak up a bit of Kotb’s extra positive energy, every morning.