CNN’s O’Brien recalls Harvard’s sense of community, offers advice to current students

Soledad M. O’Brien ’88 is the host of the CNN Special Investigations Unit and anchored the July, 2008 CNN special, “Black in America.” Of Afro-Cuban descent, O’Brien is a member of both the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. Prior to her keynote address at the Black & Crimson Banquet, O’Brien spoke with The Crimson by phone about her career as a journalist and her undergraduate years at Harvard.

The Harvard Crimson: How does the election of Barack Obama fit into the narrative of “Black in America?”

Soledad O’Brien: He wasn’t the story and he has never been the story of “Black in America.” He is one part of the story... he is yet another milestone along a road of progress for African Americans.

THC: Do you have a favorite course or professor at Harvard?

SO: Roland Fryer, a professor at Harvard, has become a very good friend of mine. I’m a big fan of his work. I probably spend more time, as a grown-up alum, thinking about courses and coursework because a lot of stories come right from Harvard professors.

THC: As a journalist, how was this political season?

SO: As a journalist, it was the gift that kept giving because every step of the way it was an interesting story, from the primaries to the election, into the inauguration and the first 100 days.

THC: Did you find a particular niche within the Harvard community?

SO: I did a lot of sports and intramurals. I played on the rugby team. I did a lot of work in the government of my House. I did a lot of public service. I never felt you could define who I was with one word.

THC: At Harvard, did you ever feel torn between the black and Hispanic communities?

SO: Never—the reason not to join was never the identity issues or concerns or conflicts.... I grew up in an all-white neighborhood and so the story of my life was always navigating both worlds very easily.

THC: Did you have a favorite final club?

SO: My husband was in the A.D., so I probably hung out there a little bit. I wouldn’t say that I had a favorite. I do remember people in the A.D. sledding on cushions down that big stairwell.

THC: Do you have any advice for students?

SO: Use the Malkin Athletic Center. They were building that while I was there, and it’s fabulous. Take advantage of all the speakers that come and freebies that you get on campus... You don’t really get those opportunities outside of a great institution like Harvard.

—Staff writer Courtney P. Yadoo can be reached at