This story is part of a series of graduate profiles ahead of Commencement ceremonies.
When Jaclyn Corin got into Harvard, she had every intention of distancing herself from high school classmate David Hogg.
“During Visitas, I told him: ‘Leave me alone. I want to make new friends,’” Corin recalled.
Their first year was supposed to be a fresh start. Corin ’23 and Hogg ’23 are survivors of the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre in Parkland, Florida, an event that propelled them into the battle for stricter gun legislation. The March For Our Lives co-founders arrived on campus in a state of exhaustion after 18 months of organizing and advocacy.
Everyone understood them to be traumatized by the shooting, Hogg explained. What fewer grasped was the burnout from building a national youth-led movement. The weight of the cause hung heavy. Particularly hurtful were all the adults who offered well-meant, but misguided sentiments. “Our generation really messed things up; we’re so happy you kids are here to save us,” Hogg gave as an example.
“To put that kind of pressure on us as kids who went through a school shooting,” he added, shaking his head, “that’s not OK.”
Both students described struggling as College first-years in 2019. “I felt really disconnected from my peers,” Corin shared. “A lot of it was my PTSD, which translated into depressive symptoms and anxiety.”
For Hogg, who graduated from Douglas one year ahead of Corin and took a gap year to work with March for Our Lives, entering Harvard put a stop to the whirl of constant travel. “For the first time, I was staying in the same place,” he recalled. “Every time somebody recognized me, it was scary. I didn’t know if they were going to hug me or punch me.”
As for academics, Corin, a top student at Douglas, quickly settled into her government concentration (with an educational studies secondary). She had spent senior year of high school heavily involved with March for Our Lives operations. “I wanted to expand my understanding of political science and theory,” she said. “I also had a really good experience in GOV20, which is the classic intro class.”
“She came to Harvard with a strong organizing background,” noted Martha Lee, who served as Corin’s first-year proctor and academic adviser. “We talked a lot about building up her data skills and seeking courses that helped her gain a well-rounded approach to public policy.”
A veteran of the Douglas debate team, Hogg took many Government classes over the years, but the field’s quantitative methods were a strain. He ultimately landed in a different social science department. “I dove into studying history to understand as much as I could about the conservative movement in the United States in the aftermath of World War II,” Hogg said.
“The ancient philosopher Sun Tzu was focused on understanding your enemy as well as yourself, and that’s the approach David took,” offered John Della Volpe, director of polling at the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics and a mentor to Hogg since shortly after the shooting. “I don’t know if there are a lot of modern-day organizers who are as well-versed with history and its application to the current events of today.”
Della Volpe also watched Hogg evolve from an 18-year-old activist with “tunnel vision” into the joyful young leader he is today. A turning point came when campus closed due to COVID-19, which Hogg, then a sophomore, took as an opportunity for reset and reprioritizing friends, including Corin. “He’s learned how to take care of himself, while also focusing on other Americans who are impacted by gun violence,” Della Volpe said.
With Corin, the story is less about transformation than groundedness. “When I first met Jackie, I noticed she was always saying hi to people and introducing herself,” Lee said. “She made a genuine effort to connect on an active-listening level. I’m struck that she’s still the same person with those same values and genuine qualities.”
The pandemic was hard on someone so socially inclined. But by junior year, Corin was finally forging meaningful friendships and growing closer with her boyfriend at the time. Her relationship with Hogg also deepened. “I went into my senior year feeling super energized and ready to make it my best year yet,” she said.
Shortly into fall semester, however, she was called back to Parkland when her father fell ill with complications from COVID-19. He was fully vaccinated and boosted, Corin said. He was also immunocompromised, a survivor of chronic lymphocytic leukemia.
Paul Corin, 67, died one month into her senior year. “Life keeps throwing her these challenges,” observed Lee, “and Jackie just keeps going. She still has this emotional capacity to build up other people and see the good. She still gets her voice out there and maintains her strength.”
A contrast in personalities, Corin and Hogg are the only March for Our Lives co-founders who remain active within the organization today. Hogg, who has dyslexia, is voluble and intense, with a talent for storytelling and language. In early April, he delivered a fiery speech at a March for Our Lives rally on the steps of Widener Library, organized in the aftermath of the shooting at Covenant School in Tennessee. He intends to focus on March for Our Lives after graduation, with a desire to attend law school in the future. He’s also developing a project to support young people running for state legislature and Congress.
Corin, who excels at behind-the-scenes work, possesses a quiet intelligence and warmth. She will head to Oxford in the fall for a public policy master’s program, a one-year intensive she calls “vividly international.” As she reflected on her time at Harvard, she expressed empathy for all the March for Our Lives co-founders who headed off to college on their own. “Being in close proximity has allowed David and me to tag-team,” she said.
In the end, Corin was glad to have this hometown confidante nearby. “I describe our relationship as very brotherly-sisterly,” she said. “Having David here, and having him to lean on, has been so helpful.”