Courage to Report
Upon accepting the 59th annual Elijah Parish Lovejoy award Oct. 16, NPR Foreign Correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson repeated questions that she continually wrestles with: “Why in the world do we do this job?” she said. “And is it worth it?”
Worth talking her way out of the execution sentence she received from radical Shiite leader Muqtada al Sadr in Iraq in 2004? Worth witnessing the life of a young Marine taken by a Taliban bullet in 2010? Worth enduring tear gas that engulfed downtown Cairo, Egypt, during the Day of Rage last January?
Nelson, who received the award and honorary degree from President Adams for her courage, recalled her experience reporting on young Saudi Arabian women fighting for the right to vote, youth in Egypt and Tunisia protesting their governments, and the rebel-Gadhafi conflict in Libya. “Looking back at what I’ve faced in places like the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya, I feel it’s been worth it,” said Nelson, “both for myself and those informed by my work.”
A reception and dinner followed the convocation, where College faculty, staff, and student journalists mingled with the Lovejoy selection committee and other distinguished writers and editors. As guests finished their meals, Nelson stood to share a few last impromptu words.
“My husband tells me that I’m a much better speaker when I don’t have anything prepared,” she said, and she thanked him, again, for the premature grey hairs he's been willing to develop in support of her career. She laughed before becoming more serious.
“We, as Americans, have an opportunity and a responsibility to be involved with the world,” she said.
Nelson’s passion for fulfilling this responsibility is what makes the grey hairs worth it.
Photo: Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson speaks with students about her work as a foreign correspondent.