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I used to be a celebrity. I was the Roving Reporter.
Natalie Portman, Al Gore III, the Prince of Jordan—the biggest celebrity students during my time at Harvard. Friends and family from home bombarded me with questions about these heavy hitters. Did I know them? What did they look like? What did they eat when I saw them in the dining halls? I didn’t have the answers because, like everyone here, I was too busy hunting for my own 15 minutes. I wanted to graduate a recognizable face in a sea of 1,650.
When I arrived at Harvard in 2001, it seemed like bad timing. Grade deflation was the new trend. Caps on honors for my class would be stricter than ever. But a window of opportunity opened up when The Crimson’s first-ever Roving Reporter—Vicky C. Hallett ’02—announced her retirement. This was my chance to graduate with distinction.
Notepad and pen in hand, I posed for the portrait that would run every Friday in The Crimson for the next two years, alongside my question of the week and five clever—or not-so-clever—answers from students.
After only a few days on the job, people began to notice me. Drunken revelers in overcrowded room parties suddenly shouted, “It’s the Roving Reporter!” My friends stopped describing me to others as the short girl with brown hair who looks too young to be in college and replaced the description with two simple words: Roving Reporter. People would e-mail me to ask where I was going to conduct Wednesday night’s rove, and I would tip them off so that they, too, could get their 15 minutes.
The job had its perks. It led directly to two dates—once a guy asked me out when I hit him with the question of the week. Roving forced me to eat in every dining hall on campus because I never would have left Annenberg had I not been searching for new faces to interview and new places to rove. At a time when I was still feeling my way around Harvard, it gave me an easy excuse to meet new people. My freshman year, Roving landed me a spot in The Crimson parody by the Harvard Lampoon, a semi-secret Sorrento Square social organization that used to occasionally publish a so-called humor magazine—did you know that I clean up vomit and then eat it and then vomit it out? My freshman roommates endearingly wallpapered my door with that issue.
When I got promoted to a new position at The Crimson in the spring of 2004, I stopped roving. I immediately started to miss those nomadic Wednesday night dinners. So for tomorrow’s Crimson commencement issue, I put on my roving cap once again. I had forgotten how much fun it was to pull interesting quotes from my classmates. Instead of the traditional one-dining hall plan, I roved relentlessly in Winthrop, then Kirkland, then Quincy. I didn’t want my final rove to end.
I have already rid my walls of all posters and stripped my shelves of all but the essentials to prepare for the June 10 move-out. Away from the trash pile lie three frames given to me by a Crimson mentor as a tribute to my two years of roving. They are the few items I’ve decided to keep for my apartment in New York next year. Each frame features one roving reporter-style question about me, answered by five witty Crimson friends: “In a wrestling match between Jeni and Summers, who would win?” “What do you like most about Jenifer L. Steinhardt?” “What cocktail best represents Jeni and why?”
Some members of the Class of 2005 came here already famous. Others gained recognition for the plays they directed, for the touchdowns they scored, for the political protests they led, for the Hoopes Prizes they earned.
My own distinction originated in a quarter-page tucked inside of The Crimson once a week. When I came to Harvard, I didn’t know who my friends were, what I wanted to do with my life, or where I would end up in 10 years. I’ve searched for the answers these past four years, and I still haven’t found all of them. But Vicky C. Hallett, by retiring, gave me the gift of a lifetime. When all else fails, I turn to my default identity. I look at the three frames that will hang on my wall wherever I rove.
I am the Roving Reporter. Look out for me.
Jenifer L. Steinhardt ’05 is an economics concentrator in Adams House. She was associate managing editor of The Crimson in 2004.
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