'68 Alums Reflect on the Years Since Their Commencement

The women's movement hadn't come along yet so we didn't know what to call it, but we knew back then at Harvard in 1968, we knew there was something deeply wrong with the whole system. If we hadn't learned it at the no-women-allowed Lamont Library, the virtually all-male Crimson, the men-only Rhodes scholarships or in our classes where men outnumbered women by four to one, we women certainly learned it when we started looking for work.

I had fixed my sights early on a newspaper career. Not only did reporting look like a lot of fun, but I believed that the journalist's unbiased facts could be the best weapons against the madness of the world.

Boston's AP bureau chief said he wouldn't hire me because as a woman I'd be "attacked on the streets of Boston" and besides, I couldn't change a tire so UPI would beat me out for the story. This inspired me to take karate because I wanted to come back and break this man's desk in two after I changed his tires, but unfortunately he retired before I could get there and besides, I was lousy at karate.

Fortunately The Somerville Journal was desperate, probably because it couldn't find men who were willing to work full time for $90 a week. I moved on to The Santa Barbara News Press and The Ypsilanti Press near Detroit. Back in Washington, the women's movement sued and the laws changed. Doors opened for me at The Detroit Free Press, The Los Angeles Times and ultimately, The Wall Street Journal.

I loved being a reporter even though it often was heart wrenching and morally ambiguous. Sara Jane Moore told


Hume, a renowned journalist, is currently a Senior Fellow and Adjunct Lecturer at the Joan Shorenstein Barone Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy. me she'd tried to kill President Ford because she wanted to prove herself a real radical instead of being an FBI phony spying on the Bay Area's radical movement. Flying to Cambodia in the back of a cargo plane on Thanksgiving Day, 1979, I saw the Khmer Rouge's just-vacated torture chambers, the pits of bones, the killing fields. At the Three Mile Island nuclear accident I thought we all were going to die. Covering Jesse Jackson's 1984 campaign inspired and frustrated me.

Over and over again I learned the lesson: politics makes a big difference. I continued to believe that my most effective role was to bear witness as fairly as I could. But despite my best efforts trying to decode Washington for The L.A. Times and then The Wall Street Journal and "Washington Week in Review," I found myself trapped as a member of the White House press corps. The facts simply didn't seem to matter anymore; the public cared more about myths and personalities. I didn't get my satisfaction from the political process the way others seemed to. The results were too transient, or too hard to measure, or, if they were measureable, too hard to live with. The political system and the media had become disconnected from the daily realities that should have guided them. Unwilling to give up journalism entirely, but determined not to go on succeeding at the wrong things, I came back to Harvard after the 1988 election.

Now, after five years of thinking and teaching at the Kennedy School, I see the media landscape changing. New problems and opportunities are emerging. Remarried, with a two year-old and three stepchildren in tow, I am definitely grounded in the daily realities. My family and I are moving back to Washington to try again.

Here is what I have learned so far: the tricky part about having your dreams come true is making them mean what they were supposed to mean when you dreamed them in the first place. Like many others from the class of '68, I am still working on the original stuff: bearing witness, struggling to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable; trying to find enough to laugh about so that the horror doesn't kill off the hope. I still believe, against all evidence, that things can change for the better. We're working on it. Are you?

The tricky part about having your dreams come true is making them mean what they were supposed to mean when you dreamed them in the first place.Crimson File PhotoELLEN H. HUME '68