Academics / Community / Opinion

Commencement speaker Cindy Harvey 1990 inspires

When Ms. Erisman approached the Senior class a few months ago and asked that we brainstorm who we might want as our Commencement speaker, the entire class resonated with an overwhelming desire to hear from Mindy Kahling and no one else. When the laughter subsided, she instead asked us to consider the qualities we would hope for our Commencement speaker to have. We compiled a list, and unanimously agreed that our speaker should be a woman; young (although by whose definition, really?), engaging, and passionate about life and her professional endeavors.

Our class was elated to hear a few weeks later that our speaker would be Cynthia (Cindy) Harvey, a 1990 Dana alumna currently working as a Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department of State. Ms. Harvey, who led a workshop in last year’s She Sails, definitely fits the bill as both an eloquent public speaker and dynamic role model.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Ms. Harvey over Skype, bearing witness to her exuberant personality (even despite technical difficulties). She greeted me with a bright smile, radiating confidence and joy. She began by introducing herself, not as a Department of State diplomat, but as a person. She spoke about growing up in Colorado and starting at Dana as a boarder her sophomore year. She entered in 1987 and “never looked back,” recalling the “laughter echoing in the halls of the dorm,” and the “silliness and sheer joy” that filled her days here. She reflected on the atmosphere of Dana as a ‘pre-sorority’ of sorts, a breeding ground for “strong, competent, ambitious young women” who, due to Dana’s extensive academic and extracurricular opportunities are “endowed with the skills needed to function and thrive in the real world.” Although she hadn’t purposefully sought out an all-girls education, she reflects on its benefits as having provided her with the “confidence to participate” in college and work opportunities.

More than anything, she remembers Ms. Siemon’s Middle Eastern studies class which, she said, was the first time she was asked to think about history analytically. Ms. Siemon’s and her other teachers’ “thoughtful approach” to learning enabled her to “focus on [her] development as both a student and leader.” She attributed her habit of reading the news to the course and said that it truly provided her with the foundation of knowledge about the Middle East that would later define her career.

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After leaving Dana, she studied at the University of Pennsylvania, a school famed for its rigorous academics, but, in many ways, similar to the academic competition celebrated at Dana. She excelled in her studies there and was able to take full advantage of the school’s “exciting cosmopolitan experience,” also spending a year abroad in Spain. She entered a teaching position in Japan after graduating with a BA, and then spent some time as a UPenn admissions officer. She entered the Fletcher School of Law at Diplomacy at Tufts University and graduated in 1999. It was during her last year at Tufts that a meeting with a guest lecturer inspired her interest in becoming a diplomat, but it wasn’t until 2001 that she began the long hiring process. After several written and in-person interviews and rigorous security screenings, she joined the U.S. Department of State in 2003. During the past eleven years, she has served in U.S embassies in London and Amman and most recently worked as the Cultural Affairs Officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem. Her expertise in Middle Eastern foreign policy — notably in her role as Special Assistant for the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, handling the Middle East portfolio — she credits to her deep-rooted interest in the area, begun by Ms. Siemon’s class. This August she will move to Islamabad, Pakistan, where she will assume the role of U.S Embassy Spokesperson and Information Officer.

As the class of 2014 prepares to exit the ‘Dana bubble,’ Ms. Harvey’s experience and remarks at Commencement should serve as a window into the future, sparking self-reflection and a deep appreciation for all that Dana has provided. One class, one teacher, one experience, or even one conversation may just hold the key to our future endeavors. She referred to her time at Dana as an “investment in leadership,” one that will only continue to grow and prosper if we nurture it correctly.

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