David Laibson heard of Samyra Miller ’21 before he met her in person. And he wasn’t alone.
“All roads on campus seem to lead to Samyra and her Instagram account,” said the Robert I. Goldman Professor of Economics and co-faculty dean of Lowell House, Miller’s Harvard home. “Her wisdom, knowledge, and advice about life at Harvard are unmatched.”
More than 5,300 people (and counting) follow Miller on Instagram, where she dispenses information and opinions on everything from how to choose a good Gen Ed course and strategies for navigating campus social scenes to where to get good coffee and her shopping hauls.
Miller has long been active on social media, but her account became the go-to source for all things Harvard in 2020 around the time students left campus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The sociology concentrator started an Instagram series called “Corona confessions,” inviting submissions for bucket-list activities students wanted to do before leaving town.
The series took off, and Miller did too. Once she returned home to New Orleans she started polls for students and invited contributions from her peers about issues they were concerned with, no matter where they were located. Students sent her requests to share information with her followers about digital events, campus safety protocols, and new clubs. Miller recorded greetings from her sunny backyard, singing sessions, and thoughts on rumors and reported bad behavior from her peers.
“One thing that Samyra can teach us all is that there’s a great value in authenticity and even though that takes some courage, it is ultimately a good way to think about organizing your life,” said Laibson. “She’s the leader who says things that she thinks are right, whether they are popular or not. In the long run, that has earned her enormous respect and admiration.”
“I feel that I can speak so confidently about things because of how I was raised by my parents and by New Orleans, a very bold city where anything goes and you speak your mind,” said Miller, who is also a classically trained singer and music director of the Harvard LowKeys a cappella group. “I love learning, and I love educating, but I also love to entertain.”
Her outspokenness also has a purpose, which she attributed to the educators in her family and her secondary concentration in Educational Studies. During her time at Harvard, she focused on courses about the sociology and psychology of education, which in turn helped her understand the campus world around her.
“When I got to Harvard, I was new to the culture of elite higher education,” said Miller. “Through my sociology and educational studies classes, I was able to recognize what was going on around me and have the necessary vocabulary to be able to talk about things I saw at Harvard” when it came to issues of equity and culture.
Her love of education and fascination with its role in society also took her around the world—she spent summers working for educational organizations for youth and adults in Buenos Aires, New York, and Cambridge.
“I’m so grateful for my time here and the opportunities I’ve had,” said Miller, who also traveled to China and Puerto Rico with the LowKeys. “People in New Orleans always say it’s a small world. But coming to Harvard has made me realize just how big the world is, and Harvard has really given me the tools to navigate that world. There are just so many places to be and people to meet.”
Miller met many of those new people through her Instagram and on campus when she returned in January to finish her senior year. Students regularly approach — and one even recognized her in the Atlanta airport — to thank her for helping them find a class or change their mind about a social issue.
But with great power comes great responsibility.
“When I started doing this, it came out of a genuine investment in the Harvard community,” she said. “Now people literally depend on me, and they’ll flood my DMs with thoughts and responses to me and each other. It’s very time-consuming for me to manage, but I still want people to feel like they have that space to have conversations.”
It’s a double-edged sword, because “I have a bit more of a responsibility to people now,” she added. “There are pros and cons with that, and I’ve had to learn how to intentionally take time for myself while still doing things for others.”
During that time away from her inbox, Miller calls her friends and family on FaceTime, decorates her Lowell suite, and sings. She also hosted a podcast for the Harvard Crimson this fall called the Harvard Communitea, where she interviewed fellow students on topics such as dating, academics, athletics, and voting.
Miller is soaking up her last few weeks on campus before graduating, including organizing events for seniors as the first marshal of the Class of 2021. The honor, which also entails managing the Senior Gift fund and future alumni events, along with 13 other marshals, sparked some personal reflection about her place in Harvard’s history.
“People always ask: ‘Who is going to replace you?’ But I’m not their mother! If someone wants to take the reins, they are more than welcome to. There could be another candidate out there,” said Miller.
“It’s a good question,” she added. “Maybe I’ll post on Instagram about it later.”