Christine M. Tchen '78

Three decades before attaining a coveted spot in the Obama administration, Christina “Tina” M. Tchen ’78 was at the helm
By H. Zane B. Wruble

Three decades before attaining a coveted spot in the Obama administration, Christina “Tina” M. Tchen ’78 was at the helm of another political juggernaut: the Dunster House Committee. And though it may seem an unlikely breeding ground for public office, Tchen was not the only one preparing for a place in the limelight—she ran the HoCo with future Massachusetts Governor Deval L. Patrick ’78.

In her role as the Director of Public Liaison for Obama, Tchen will oversee the “front door to the White House,” according to the administration’s Web site, something for which her undergraduates provided early preparation.

In addition to serving as HoCo chair, Tchen, a sociology concentrator, was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and edited the Arts section of The Harvard Independent. She also pursued her passion for politics as a “gopher” at the Institute of Politics.

Though Tchen maintained a busy extracurricular schedule, she did not let it interfere with her social life, according to her blockmate Deborah A. Graham ’78. “She definitely knew how to have a good time as well as work hard,” Graham said. Despite her 4 a.m. work nights—which Graham said were “frequently accompanied by a box of doughnuts”—she said Tchen managed to attend her fair share of parties. If a particularly attractive event fell on a demanding work night, Graham said that Tchen managed to complete her studies and then attend the activity later.

Tchen said that during her time at Harvard—in “the days when you could still drink at age 18”—she enjoyed attending athletic events and the post-game social opportunities they provided. “I always went to the games; no one ever didn’t go to the games,” she said. In addition to going to basketball and football games, Tchen said she also often supported her friends on the Harvard soccer team.

Friends of Tchen say they are not surprised by her recent appointment to the Obama administration. “Tina was unbelievably hard-working in college,” Graham said. “She was an open person who really tried to relate to everyone and did.”

Professor of Sociology Theda R. Skocpol advised Tchen on her thesis, “State Structure and Social Movements in the United States.” She referred to Tchen as “someone who lived out her values,” and who was “very engaged with thinking about social issues.”