Marcos Bretón

Marcos Breton: Journalist brings Emmy – and inspiration – to Sacramento school

Would you remember those who helped you reach your pinnacle, when your moment arrived?

Liz Chavolla did. No matter that the spotlight was for her, that the applause and exhilaration were all hers as she collected an Emmy Award for excellence in TV journalism.

“They said our names, and we just looked at each other,” said Chavolla, a native Sacramentan whose aspirations to become a journalist led her to Los Angeles, the largest market on the West Coast.

“Then they said we won. We couldn’t believe it. They had to say our names again.”

It was just a few weeks ago that Chavolla stood on that stage, Emmy in hand for producing public affairs programs about faith and community.

Significantly, the program Chavolla produces for Telemundo, a Spanish-language network, was honored for excellence in television over English-language affiliate stations.

The Emmy was a big surprise, but everyone around Chavolla knew what would happen next: That award was coming back to Sacramento.

“Enter to learn, leave to serve,” were the words motivating Chavolla to think of home. She first encountered them as a high school senior when she was part of the first class of girls to graduate from Christian Brothers High School. It was the class of 1991.

“We were taught that you learn to serve people,” said Chavolla, now 41. “You learn things, you teach them to others, you always pay it forward.”

What could Chavolla pay forward to the people who molded her, and to the new generation of students in their formative years, learning as she did?

Inspiration, she decided. The inspiration that was symbolized in the gold statue she had worked her entire career to earn.

Chavolla took her first steps toward that Emmy as a young girl in Sacramento, inspired by the female journalists she saw on her TV screen.

We were taught that you learn to serve people. You learn things, you teach them to others, you always pay it forward.

Liz Chavolla, Telemundo journalist

“I loved Barbara Walters. I loved in-depth writing. I loved documentaries,” Chavolla said. “I was fascinated by stories and I began writing.”

Her parents – Florentino and Elisa – were custodians who would alternate their graveyard shifts so young Liz – an only child – was never alone.

“We always used to say we were the Three Musketeers,” she said.

Her favorite childhood gifts were note pads and the pencils she used to fill them with stories of people and places. She clenched them so tightly she developed thick calluses on her fingers.

Her first job as a journalist was the Catholic Herald in Sacramento, where she covered quinceaneras and youth conferences – for $6 an hour.

She studied journalism at Sacramento State. A local station offered Chavolla her first job in television – after she finished the job application with her mother sitting by her side. Her mom sat in on her early job interviews as well.

“She would always start the interviews by telling them how much I loved to write,” Chavolla said.

She created and produced the first Spanish-language morning show in Sacramento 13 years ago. Then she left for Los Angeles.

She became a success, helping her station win eight Emmy Awards this year. It was bittersweet because her father died last December, missing her big moment.

He used to tell her how much he liked her work. “He liked that my shows were about real people,” Chavolla said.

Chavolla told her father, and others, that if she ever won her award, she would bring it back to Sacramento and leave it here – even though it symbolized so much to her.

So earlier this week, Christian Brothers High School got a call: An Emmy would now adorn the school’s TV studio.

It’s an example of her success that we hope will inspire others.

Lorcan Barnes, president of Christian Brothers High School

“We were so excited,” said Lorcan Barnes, president of Christian Brothers.

“It’s an example of her success that we hope will inspire others,” Barnes said.

Chavolla said she was honored to share her success with the people who helped shape her love of community and faith.

For the educators who have dedicated their lives to teaching young people, Chavolla’s gesture holds special meaning. At her pinnacle, when all attention was on her, she took the time to make them proud.