Mary Jordan (CAS ’83) has travelled around the world, written two books and won a Pulitzer Prize for her work with The Washington Post. But during her time at Georgetown, her path was no clearer than that of the average upperclassman struggling to figure out post-graduate life.
“I was really open to many different fields. I even thought politics for a while,” Jordan said.
Her decision to ultimately pursue a career in journalism came about after conversations with professors and several internships at media companies, during which she began to feel that journalism gave her a sense of familiarity and continuity.
“Journalism felt like it would be perpetual grad school,” Jordan said. “I loved school. I wanted perpetual learning.”
Since her graduation, Jordan has thrived in her journalistic endeavors — a testament to her passion for learning. She began working at The Washington Post at age 23 as an intern in the style section. Three decades later, her journey has been anything but stagnant.
Rising to a new position every four years or so, she has reported from 40 different countries and interviewed the likes of musician Paul McCartney, former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair and Spanish author Gabriel Garcia Marquez. As a foreign correspondent for 14 years, she learned Spanish and Japanese before running the paper’s headquarters in Mexico and Tokyo.
Her husband Kevin Sullivan has been her writing partner on many of her pieces, including their Pulitzer Prize-winning series on the Mexican justice system and their New York Times bestseller “Hope: A Memoir of Survival in Cleveland.” Although some might imagine it difficult to work so closely together, Jordan describes the partnership as “fabulous.”
“It’s like any duo — songwriters, architects, et cetera,” Jordan said. “For some people, it just gels.”
Their home office is equipped with back-to-back desks and “makes writing, which is often very lonely, a lot less so.”
Recently, she has reported on this year’s presidential election. Coming from an international perspective, Jordan said she appreciates the uniqueness of the American election process.
“People cannot believe how long the campaign is. It’s mandated in England to only be weeks long. … That’s true in many places,” Jordan said. Her colleagues and friends around the world have expressed their confusion and astonishment with the way the United States handles its elections, particularly noting the amount of money in politics. Still, there are some international similarities.
“Populist candidates are rising all across the world,” Jordan said. “People like Sanders and Trump are tapping into a fear and a frustration with the status quo that can be seen in many countries — a parallel that’s most evident in the recent Brexit decision.”
This past week, Jordan was in the key swing state of North Carolina to spend time with undecided voters and to gauge their reactions to the debates. Jordan disputes the assumption that the debates do not make much of an impact, and that the majority of viewers are incredibly unlikely to switch sides at this point. For some, the debates can be a huge deciding factor.
“If the race is close and 10 percent is undecided, it could have a big impact. We’ve already seen from polling, if you’re that 10 percent in a close race, you will get swayed,” she said.
From her experience talking to North Carolina voters, which she noted is a small sample size, last week’s debate seems to be pushing people a certain way.
“Most said now leaning towards Clinton. Everyone said they thought she’d done better. Although they said they were still waiting to see how the next few weeks played out,” Jordan said.
From covering injustices against women to following this year’s unpredictable campaign, nothing about Jordan’s 30 years of journalism experience has been given to her. She attributes her persistence and skill in writing to former University President Fr. Timothy Healy, S. J., recalling an English class of his that she took while at Georgetown. Knowing her interest in becoming a writer, he called her into his office.
“He said, ‘If you want to write, I want to show you how much work it takes.’ He showed me nine drafts of one of the speeches he was going to make,” Jordan recalled.
Seeing this shocked the then-college-aged Jordan, as she regarded Healy as a naturally skilled writer. Even former President Bill Clinton had consulted with him for his inaugural address.
“Healy and Georgetown were absolutely critical into spurring me a career of journalism,” Jordan said. “He was saying, ‘It can be great, it can gratifying, it can be rewarding, but it’s not going to be easy.’”
These words never left her, and she passes them on in her advice to any student interested in journalism. Her most invaluable experiences in forming her career were moments where she was forced to face the ups and downs of professional life.
Jordan has had a career that would make many envious and many more intimidated. She has met Hollywood A-listers, world leaders and even notorious drug kingpins. Still, Jordan argued that it is the people behind the scenes who have made the greatest impact on her life.
“The great joy of my career has been to meet the courageous people fighting injustices around the world,” she said. “No one knows their name. I’ve met presidents and musicians and movie stars, but in the end it’s meeting those other courageous people that has been the highlight of my career.”
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