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It was October of her second year at Harvard Law School, and Jennifer M. Granholm—Law School class of 1987, a former beauty queen, and the future first female governor of Michigan—was being investigated by the Law School Ad Board.
Granholm, who is currently the host of ‘The War Room’ on Current TV, had testified on behalf of a fellow law school student, who was accused of trying to start a riot during a protest against Harvard’s investments in Apartheid South Africa. After she admitted that she had attended the protest in order to defend her friend, the Law School Ad Board began investigating Granholm, as well.
Professor Charles R. Nesson ’60—famous for defending Daniel Ellsberg ’52 in the Pentagon Papers case—stepped forward to defend both students, according to the former governor. Granholm was acquitted and her peer only reprimanded.
The movement for divestment—which raised tensions between students and the University during the 1980s—was a defining part of Granholm’s experience at Harvard Law School, and helped to shape the advocate and political figure she would become.
Granholm has continued on that path as a career public servant who served as Michigan’s governor during one of the largest economic crises in the state’s history.
FROM HOLLYWOOD TO HARVARD
Before becoming the first female governor of Michigan, Granholm was the first female tour guide at a marine and wildlife park, which supplemented her income as she pursued an acting career. The winner of the 1977 Miss San Carlos beauty pageant, Granholm moved to Los Angeles the same year to become an actress.
After also working as a Universal Studios tour guide and appearing on the reality television show ‘The Dating Game,’ Granholm decided to pursue a different American dream. She enrolled at The University of California at Berkeley and—when she was a senior—was accepted to Harvard Law School.
“To be able to go to the finest law school in the country was beyond my wildest dreams,” Granholm said, adding that she was the first person in her family to go to college.
While everyone in Los Angeles wanted to be famous, everyone at the Law School “wanted to be president,” according to Granholm, who felt that her peers at Harvard encouraged her to strive for “excellence both in thought and in action.”
Three-quarters through her first year, Granholm met Daniel G. Mulhern—a second year—at Counter M of People Express Airlines in Newark, New Jersey on the way back from spring break.
“Dan courted me during an overnight sit-in outside the Harvard president’s office, in between chants of ‘Derek Bok! Get the Word! This is not Johannesburg!’” she wrote in her book, ‘A Governor’s Story.’
The two were engaged three months later and married in the summer before Granholm’s third year.
A POLITICAL CALLING
From encampments to sit-ins to blockades, Granholm helped to organize the Law School branch of the University-wide divestment movement.
The core group of Law School organizers, made up of Jamin “Jamie” B. Raskin ’83, Michael T. Anderson ’83, Lois P. Murphy ’84, and Granholm facilitated ‘one-a-day protests,’ which functioned like sit-ins, in front of Massachusetts Hall.
“Every generation of students has a political calling,” Raskin said, “And ours was trying to get Harvard to disengage from corporate complicity with apartheid.”
Anderson said that Granholm’s involvement—because of her reputation on campus—lent legitimacy to the movement.
“Jennifer actually gave the divestment movement a lot of credibility because people knew she wasn’t some crazy radical—that she came to it from a moral background,” Anderson said. “Certainly she was not ideologically a leftist so much as just a very earnest and moral person.”
During her time at Harvard, Granholm camped out in front of Massachusetts Hall to defend her cause.
This was only one example of the non-violent confrontation that the organizers incorporated into their protests.
“Jamie came up with the phrase ‘difficult but not impossible,’ [a] presence but not an obstruction,” Murphy said.
Granholm said that the kind of non-violent yet confrontational model that the divestment movement followed was, and still is, highly effective.
“It’s the symbol that there are things more important than one’s self, it’s a symbol that you’re willing to be physically uncomfortable and confrontational,” Grandholm said. “You have to be seen in order for the message to be seen, whether it was protesting at my house or at the steps of the capital, those messages penetrate—those resonate.”
‘NOT DONE YET’
After holding her first elected position as editor of the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, at the time the largest journal at Harvard, Granholm went on to graduate with honors.
After graduation, Granholm clerked for a judge on the United States Court of Appeals Sixth Circuit. She later became the first female Attorney General and the first female governor of Michigan.
Raskin said that participating in the divestment movement at the Law School helped the group of young activists sharpen their advocacy skills.
“We were constantly bringing in the ideas we were learning about in school into the movement,” he said.
But nearly 25 years after first applying law to politics, Granholm said that she was done running for office, but not finished serving.
“I’m not done yet, I can tell you that,” she said.
—Staff writer Caroline M. McKay can be reached at email@example.com.
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