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Journalist Is Second NMH Alumni Fellow Visitor

Journalist Is Second NMH Alumni Fellow Visitor

Last month, NBC national correspondent and MSNBC anchor Yasmin Vossoughian ’96 sat down in Memorial Chapel with four-time Pulitzer Prize finalist and New York Times reporter Rukmini Callimachi for a conversation about citizenship and leadership, this year’s learning theme at NMH. 

Yasmin Vossoughian and Rukmini Callimachi talk with students about journalism at all school meeting

The all-school meeting was a central event in Vossoughian’s two-day visit to campus as part of the NMH Alumni Fellows Initiative. This is the inaugural year for the program. Supported by Ruth Stevens ’68, the initiative brings distinguished alumni to campus to engage with students and faculty in meaningful ways. Dr. Kimmie Weeks ’01, a Liberian-born, internationally recognized activist and humanitarian, kicked off the initiative with a visit in the fall

During her visit Vossoughian also met with classes, recorded a student podcast, toured campus, and shared lunch with students interested in journalism and dinner with the Muslim Students Association and the Interfaith Leaders. She also took time for a one-on-one interview with Aurora Song ’26 that focused on her time at NMH.

The chapel conversation was moderated by Soren Anderson-Flynn ’25 and Jessica Zhang ’25. “I think that young people need to experience journalism,” Zhang said before the event. ”It informs so much more of their world than they think. I'm dying to know how these two successful journalists have dealt with roadblocks and personal struggles.” 

In the conversation, Vossoughian and Callimachi shared their desire to give voice to people who might otherwise go unheard. Both journalists routinely report on the struggles of average Americans.

They also spoke about the personal sacrifice required in their work and the challenges faced by ambitious women. Callimachi spent a lot of her career reticent to say what she wanted, she said. “I hope we can get to a place where you can be as ambitious as you want and not have that somehow be a liability.” 

Vossoughian agreed. “We have to break the cycle,” she said. “It’s incumbent upon us, as women — and for men as well. We should all be able to be ambitious and not feel guilty for it.”

yasmin vossoughian poses with several female students

“What do you want your legacy to be?” Zhang asked the speakers. Both spoke of their desire to offer truth in their reporting, regardless of the personal cost. “I would like people to know that I pursued truth, even when it wasn’t convenient, even when it was personally harmful to me and my reputation,” Callimachi said. 

Vossoughian echoed that sentiment. “I want people to see me as someone who has held people accountable,” she said. “I want to lead with the truth about who I am, and I want to speak truth to power. If you’re sitting down with me, I am going to hold you accountable, no matter what side of the aisle you sit on.”

Later, in a visit to a World Religions and Contemporary Issues class, Vossoughian talked more about her commitment to news reporting rather than the sort of news commentary done by her friend  and MSNBC colleague Rachel Maddow. “[Maddow] is brilliant at what she does. That is her strength, right?” Vossoughian said to students. “My strength is being on the steps of the Capitol on Jan. 6 and telling you that someone has been shot, that flashbangs are going off, that they've reached the steps of the Capitol and people are sheltering in place. That's my job.”

“It was really eye-opening to talk to [Callimachi and Vossoughian] because they had incredible advice for how to interview subjects and had really valuable insight about what it means to be a journalist in today's world,” Anderson-Flynn said after the chapel discussion. He also connected with Vossoughian in his creative nonfiction class and, with Delphi Lyra ’24, interviewed her for “Heard on the Hill,” a new student podcast. 

“A highlight for me was listening in as two of my students interviewed Yasmin for the podcast,” journalism teacher Ben James said. “She really set them at ease, made them laugh, challenged them, and was so forthcoming about the challenges and even the contradictions inherent in journalism. In turn, the students really challenged her. … It was an exciting exchange.”

Vossoughian’s busy schedule also included some time for reminiscing. For her interview with the visitor, Song procured a yearbook from 1996, Vossoughian’s graduation year. Delighted to find old friends and fun facts about her dorm, South Crossley, Vossoughian snapped photos on her phone and noted some of the amazing careers her classmates have gone on to. When Song asked about the factors that influenced her career, Vossoughian talked about connections that started back in her days as a student. 

Yasmin Vossughian gestures  while talking to a humanities class

“Relationships and building trust have always been really important to me,” she said. “Establishing friendships and gaining the trust of others are things I care about.

“I’ve been talking with students a lot about what it’s like to feel different and then know what it’s like to have a voice and be accepted,” said Vossoughian, who is Iranian-American and was raised culturally Muslim in a small, predominantly white town. “That was my experience at Northfield. I wanted to amplify the voices of people who feel like they are an ‘other.’”

Leilani Aires ’24 connected with Vossoughian in her U.S. history class, taught by Dean of Equity and Social Justice Martha Neubert. She appreciated Vossoughian’s emphasis on the importance of understanding context. “She had one response that was really amazing,” Aires said. “It was when she was talking about how journalists can only do so much – she can only cover as much as she can cover – and so that's when it becomes the viewer’s responsibility to take it upon themselves to do some extra work. 

“If you are somebody that watches the news, you have to understand that’s not your only source of education,” Aries continued. “So opening a history book, getting context, talking to other people who are informed and watching news are all part of how somebody can be proactive about learning about what's happening in the world. That was really meaningful for me. It made a large impression.”

Students in the Global Ethics and Climate Change class applied what they learned from the journalists’ conversations in a class exercise designed to frame difficult conversations about climate change. “It was great to hear each student share some of their personal experiences, hopes, and connections,” said teacher Tim Relyea  “They were excited to have a person who was in the field of journalism and trying to get at truth. We'd been focused on a unit about individual duties, and there was a clear connection between Yasmin's sense of purpose and our studies.”



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