The local television anchor/host remembers a lot about her days at Fenwick, where she received a detention on her first day as a freshman student in 1995.
By Mark Vruno
Cortney Hall remembers feeling nervous – again. The Fenwick alumna (’99), now an Emmy-nominated TV journalist, was back among Friars, preparing to deliver the commencement address to the Class of 2016. The problem: She was sitting near Andy Arellano, her old speech teacher. Twenty years earlier, Mr. Arellano had seemed “so scary,” not just to Ms. Hall but to generations of Fenwick sophomores. Contrary to her on-air vivaciousness on NBC-TV’s “Chicago Today” show (Channel 5), Hall insists she was a shy 15-year-old.
“We looked at speech class as a ‘gateway to graduation,’” she recalls, adding that she felt prepared four years ago. “That’s what Andy does. He prepares his students and makes them feel confident about getting up and talking in front of other people. Speech class was tough at the time, but he also made it entertaining. He taught skills that I have carried with me throughout my life and career.”
Hall grew up in the south/western suburbs of Downers Grove and Oak Brook. Comparatively, “Fenwick was diverse – and I don’t mean just racially or ethnically,” she explains. “The school pulls people from all over the Chicago area, with different life experiences.”
But no matter where Fenwick’s student live, physically, their families all seem to have one thing in common: “They all care and have similar core values,” she believes. “Going in [to Fenwick], you know you’re among like-minded people whose parents want structure and discipline for them; who want their children to learn and have morals.”
It takes time and “some distance” to appreciate many aspects of what makes Fenwick such a special place, admits Hall. “Is it strict? Yeah. We weren’t allowed to hang out in the hallways like kids at other schools,” she continues. “As a teenager, you worry about things like wearing the Catholic-school uniform. However, as an adult, you look back and understand that there was a different purpose. We weren’t caught up in the brand of jeans our classmates were buying. We heard about bullying incidents at other schools, but I don’t remember stuff like that happening at Fenwick when I was there. We were a different group of kids.”
The stress of Mr. Arellano’s speech classes is not Hall’s only faculty memory of Fenwick. “Fr. Joe [Ekpo] was a character, with his chants of ‘Up, up, Jesus! Down, down, Satan!’” she remembers. Hall played tennis, and Mr. Bostock was her soccer coach. “I was mildly terrible,” she self-assesses. “And Dr. Lordan [retired in 2019] was a Fenwick staple, of course.” She remembers (fondly?) getting JUG on her very first day as a freshman student — for a skirt infraction. “There were two tricks for shortening our skirts: We’d either roll them at the top or staple them at the hem,” she laughs.
Hall adds that she had fun as a Blackfriars yearbook staffer (she was student life editor) and wrote a “column” her senior year. “It was a parody on uniforms: shirt colors (blue!) and shoe options.” She also was active in Campus Ministry, NHS, SADD and The Wick.
Hall’s absolute favorite memory as a Friar? Hands down, it was “going downstate for boys’ basketball in 1998,” she exclaims of her junior-year experience in Peoria, IL. “I went with friends to cheer them on!”
Life after Fenwick
From Fenwick, Hall moved on to Georgetown University (Washington, D.C.), where she majored in marketing at the McDonough School of Business. “Georgetown was my first choice,” she notes. “I’ve always been a big basketball fan, and the Hoyas were really cool in the ’90s.”
Being from Chicago, she wanted a school in a big city and was accepted at Columbia and NYU in New York. “Applying to colleges was a great experience,” she shares. “I received a lot of great guidance. Fenwick put me in a good position to get into my ‘reach’ schools.” A visit to Georgetown’s campus sealed her fate.
As an under-grad at Georgetown, she says she really didn’t know what she wanted to do. After graduating, “I worked at the World Bank in D.C. for a while but decided that wasn’t for me. I didn’t want to sit in front of a computer all day long.”
Her game-changer turned out to be media coverage of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Like many Americans, “the powerful images coming out of New York captivated me,” she says. “I was in college when it happened, glued to my TV set and the news [reports].”
She came back to Chicago for graduate school at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism in Evanston. After earning her master’s degree, Hall headed back to New York City and became a producer for Bloomberg News. Before joining the now defunct Chicagoland Television (CLTV) in 2012, Hall worked — for three years each — as a general-assignment reporter at a pair of CBS affiliate television stations: WKMG in Orlando, FL, and WCIA in Champaign, IL.
For seven years, she was a morning news anchor for CLTV, then for WGN-Channel 9, both owned by Tribune Media. Last August, Hall left the top-rated “WGN Morning News” to become a co-host of “Chicago Today,” a new, half-hour lifestyle and entertainment show on WMAQ-Channel 5 (NBC). One month later, she married longtime boyfriend Dane Melick.