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Nobel Prize-Winning Journalist Maria Ressa Named Harvard 2024 Commencement Speaker

Nobel Prize-winning journalist Maria A. Ressa will be the keynote speaker at Harvard's 373rd Commencement ceremony.
Nobel Prize-winning journalist Maria A. Ressa will be the keynote speaker at Harvard's 373rd Commencement ceremony. By Courtesy of Alecs Ongcal
By Emma H. Haidar and Cam E. Kettles, Crimson Staff Writers

Nobel Prize-winning journalist Maria A. Ressa will serve as the principal speaker at Harvard’s 373rd Commencement ceremony in late May, the University announced Tuesday.

Ressa will address Harvard’s Class of 2024 during the Commencement ceremony’s Morning Exercises in Tercentenary Theater on May 23. She will also receive an honorary degree from the University as part of the ceremony.

Named one of Time Magazine’s most influential women of the century, Ressa is a leading champion of press freedom for her work as an investigative journalist in the Philippines during the tenure of President Rodrigo Duterte.

While serving as a fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School, Ressa won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021 for her “efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace,” according to the Nobel Committee.

The first Filipina to be awarded the prize, Ressa shared the award with Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov, the longtime editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta.

Ressa co-founded the online news site Rappler in 2012, one of few organizations openly critical of the Duterte regime. She also covered the government’s extrajudicial killings as part of Duterte’s “war on drugs.”

Interim Harvard President Alan M. Garber ’76 said in a statement to the Harvard Gazette — a University-run publication — that Ressa “embodies Veritas.”

“For nearly 40 years, she has dedicated herself to truth — its pursuit, its advocacy, and its defense — no matter the repercussions,” Garber said.

Before creating Rappler, Ressa spent nearly two decades as an investigative journalist in Manila and Jakarta at CNN before leading multimedia news operations at ABS-CBN, the largest news organization in the Philippines.

Ressa grew up in New Jersey after her family immigrated to the U.S. from the Philippines when she was 10 years old. She attended Princeton University, graduating cum laude in 1986 before moving back to the Philippines on a Fulbright fellowship to pursue journalism.

Ressa has also faced several legal battles — including a libel conviction and charges of tax fraud — that she has called further blows to press freedom in the Philippines.

Along with the Nobel Peace Prize, Ressa has won numerous awards for her work, including the 2020 Journalist of the Year award, the 2020 John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award, and the 2018 Knight International Journalism Award.

Journalists are frequent speakers at Harvard’s end-of-year events.

In 2020, Harvard selected then-Washington Post Executive Editor Martin Baron as its Commencement speaker. Baron delivered his address virtually after the Covid-19 pandemic forced the University to postpone its in-person graduation ceremonies.

In 2023, NPR journalist Mary Louise Kelly ’93 gave the keynote speech at Harvard Alumni Day and CNN chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta spoke at Harvard Medical School and School of Dental Medicine’s joint class day ceremony.

Other recent Commencement speakers include actor Tom Hanks, former New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, and U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland ’74.

—Staff writer Emma H. Haidar can be reached at Follow her on X @HaidarEmma.

—Staff writer Cam E. Kettles can be reached at Follow her on X @cam_kettles or on Threads @camkettles.

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