Why Farai Chideya ’90 Keeps Coming Back to Harvard
Farai Chideya ’90
Chief Marshal for Harvard’s 364th Commencement
An award-winning writer and journalist, Farai Chideya ’90 has been a reporter and political analyst for NPR, CNN, ABC News, and Newsweek; is the author of five books; and is also a professor and writer-in-residence at New York University. She was elected by peers in her 25th Reunion class to serve as chief marshal this year, an honor that recognizes an individual’s success and contributions to society at large. With her trademark enthusiasm, she shares why she’ll always make time for Harvard.
What has kept you engaged with Harvard all these years?
Being a part of a community of friends has been the most meaningful to me. I see people from Harvard all the time, and it’s been a pleasure to get to know alumni from other classes, professionally and personally. There is comfort in having this extended family that Harvard represents.
I came back to teach in 2012 as a fellow at the Institute of Politics. It was fantastic to connect with another generation of students. Every time I engage with Harvard, I get to meet a new group of people and learn something from them. It’s a real privilege.
The chief marshal is a long-standing tradition at Harvard. What are some of your favorite Harvard traditions?
When I think about Harvard and its history, I’m excited that it has kept its traditions. I was up at Harvard recently and had breakfast with two students who had gone to the Adams House formal. It's nice to see those traditions go on.
And this is not a Harvard tradition, but I want to get my roommates to go to the Garment District during our reunion. We used to go to Dollar-a-Pound on Saturday mornings.
Why did you come to Harvard?
I felt that it was the school I would regret not going to. I just had a sense that this school could change my life, and that’s why I came.
What was House life like for you?
I hang out with people from Adams House all the time. We had a fun cohort of people, and I’m very close to many of them today. Actually, I’m just finishing a story for Betsy Reed ’90, who is editor of The Intercept. I’ve met so many people in the media who were in Adams House. People are always asking what House you were in.
What’s the most memorable thing that has happened to you as a Harvard student/alumna?
When I was a senior, I went to a dinner party with Toni Morrison. I saw her again when I was the emcee of a benefit where she was being honored. I reminded her that I had met her 25 years ago, and she was very gracious. It was just lovely.
How did Harvard influence your career choice?
The career counselor told me that Harvard had a minority internship with Newsweek and that I should apply for it because I loved to write. And that was it. I interned for them while I was a student and then again starting the week after graduation. It definitely influenced my career choice.
You wrote in a Huffington Post column that you want the freedom to fail from time to time. How would you advise graduating students on how to fail well in the “real world”?
What perfectionism often does is put someone in a tailspin between “I’m amazing” and “I’m horrible.” You’re wasting your time with that. You may do amazing things, but if all you do is worry about whether you’re being amazing, you’re not living your life.
Not every goal has to be professional. It’s great to be ambitious, but you also need to be ambitious for your own well-being, mental health, and physical health. You have to be happy in your own life and not just try to please others. You need permission to fail.
You have said that you hope your work speaks for itself. What does your work say about you?
I have my own opinion about the world and how politics works, but I have a lot of compassion for people of all types—and I have interviewed everyone from murderers to self-made billionaires. Once you get the context for the reasons why people do things, I think you understand more about the complexity of the human experience. I consider it a real privilege to talk to people about their lives.