Campus & Community

Mary Louise Kelly ’93 is featured speaker for Harvard Alumni Day

Award-winning journalist, broadcaster, and author will participate in event celebrating Harvard’s global alumni community

7 min read
Mary Louise Kelly.

Photo by Mike Morgan for NPR

An esteemed journalist and broadcaster whose work has informed national conversations on issues of defense, foreign policy, the #MeToo movement, and more, Mary Louise Kelly ’93 will be the featured speaker for the second annual Harvard Alumni Day — the Harvard Alumni Association’s University-wide, global event honoring alumni impact, citizenship, and community. The celebration will be held in Harvard Yard on June 2 and will be simultaneously livestreamed for those who cannot attend in person.

“Mary Louise is an inspired choice for Harvard Alumni Day. She is deeply committed to her work and to its meaning and value in a democratic society,” said President Larry Bacow. “She has expanded the perspectives of countless people over decades of reporting in the United States and elsewhere. We are delighted to have enticed her away from her desk and back to Harvard. I look forward to hearing her remarks.”

Kelly is widely recognized as one of the most prominent voices in American journalism. As NPR’s first intelligence correspondent and co-host of its award-winning flagship program, “All Things Considered,” she has reported on some of the world’s most complex and pressing geopolitical challenges. Whether covering a war zone or interviewing world leaders, she has earned a reputation for incisive and nuanced reporting that is informed by her deep knowledge and understanding of the topic at hand. John Lansing, NPR’s chief executive, has praised her as “one of the most respected, truthful, factual, professional, and ethical journalists in the United States.”

Kelly led the NPR team that was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2021 for its on-the-ground reporting from Iran. She has also received numerous other awards for her work, including the Leonard Zeidenberg First Amendment Award and a Gracie Award.

“Mary Louise Kelly embodies the spirit of intellectual curiosity that drives so many Harvard alumni to make a difference throughout their lives,” said HAA President Allyson Mendenhall ’90, M.L.A. ’99. “Her reporting and on-air storytelling have touched the hearts and minds of countless people around the world — lending her a unique perspective to both the opportunities and challenges we all face as a global community. I know her words will resonate deeply with her fellow alumni and remind us just how powerful our impact can be.”

“It’s an honor, obviously, and a pleasure,” said Kelly. “But it’s also a little daunting.” Yet, this moment holds great personal significance for Kelly, who spoke of her late father, Jim Kelly, a member of the Harvard College Class of 1968 who would be celebrating his 55th reunion this spring. “He never missed a reunion, and neither have I. And I think, ‘Well, Dad would be interested in what I have to say, so maybe his classmates and other alumni will too.’”

While touring Lamont Library recently, Kelly reflected fondly on the many mornings she spent reading French literature there as an undergraduate and the deep connection she felt with the generations who studied there before her. “I just loved feeling part of that line of scholars who tackled texts while sitting in the same leather chair that I was sitting in, sipping coffee and feeling very lucky to be there.”

Sharing the Harvard experience with her father was particularly meaningful to Kelly. “It was life-changing for him to come out of a public school in Idaho in the 1960s and get a Harvard education and then go on to Harvard Law School. To see his daughter grow up and be able to follow in his footsteps was a joy for our whole family.”

Mary Louise Kelly ’93 with her roommates during their 25th Reunion

Mary Louise Kelly ’93 (third from left) with her roommates during their 25th Reunion.

Courtesy of Mary Louise Kelly

A storied career

Before making the leap to broadcasting, Kelly got her start as a political reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In 1995, she joined the team that launched BBC/Public Radio International’s “The World.” The following year, she relocated to London, where she worked as a producer for CNN and as a senior producer, host, and reporter for the BBC World Service.

Kelly first joined NPR in 2001 as the senior editor of “All Things Considered.” Her work soon shifted toward covering national security, and in 2004, Kelly launched NPR’s intelligence beat, reporting on the CIA and other spy agencies from war zones in the Middle East and elsewhere. For a decade, she traveled the globe to investigate issues of terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and defense. Her coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Arab Spring, and the hunt for Osama bin Laden garnered widespread acclaim for its depth and nuance.

In 2011, Kelly briefly stepped away from journalism following a particularly difficult trip to Baghdad. She decided it was time for a career change and drew on her spy knowledge to write spy fiction instead. Her debut thriller, “Anonymous Sources,” was published in 2013, followed by her second novel, “The Bullet,” in 2015.

Kelly’s latest book, a memoir titled “It. Goes. So. Fast, The Year of No Do-Overs,” shares a personal account of her experiences as a working mother and the challenges she has faced in balancing her career in journalism with a demanding family life.

Returning to NPR in 2016, she has co-hosted “All Things Considered” since 2018 and serves as a contributing writer at The Atlantic, where she moderates interviews at forums from Aspen to Abu Dhabi. Her writing has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Politico, Washingtonian, and other publications. She has lectured at Harvard and Stanford University and taught a course on national security and journalism at Georgetown University.

Harvard’s impact

In addition to her degrees in government, French language, and literature from Harvard, Kelly earned a master’s degree in European studies from the University of Cambridge. She credits Harvard for giving her the confidence to succeed. As she recalls, “I was the only person from my school, my year, to matriculate into Harvard, and it was intimidating. I remember over the years just thinking, if I can hold my own with these people, in these classrooms, in these conversations, all these people who are so driven and so ambitious, then whatever other challenges life is throwing at me, I got this.”

During her time at Harvard, she reported on local and student politics for The Harvard Crimson, and covered the 1992 presidential election and the first inauguration of President Bill Clinton. “Professionally, I draw on the lessons I learned there every day. First and foremost, it taught me to write really fast on deadline.” Kelly added that it also allowed her to forge connections with “colleagues and friends who’ve remained friends and competitors and colleagues to this day.”

As an alumna, Kelly has held volunteer leadership positions for her class reunion campaigns and previously served as an alumni interviewer. She was also nominated by her classmates as a candidate for the role of chief marshal in 2018.

In addition to Kelly’s address, highlights of Harvard Alumni Day will include the traditional and celebratory all-alumni parade, remarks by Bacow, musical performances, and a ceremony honoring the 2023 Harvard Medalists. An all-alumni Yard party with food and beverage trucks will include local favorites such as Pinocchio’s Pizza, El Jefe’s, and Bon Me.

“We were delighted to have so many alumni from across the University join us last June for the first-ever Harvard Alumni Day. It was an extraordinary celebration — and I know that our alumni are ready to show off their Crimson spirit once again,” said Sarah Karmon, executive director of the Harvard Alumni Association. “Mary Louise Kelly is a shining example of the worldwide impact of our alumni, and she is an exceptionally gifted storyteller. Like all of our alumni, I am eagerly looking forward to hearing her speak.”

Harvard Alumni Day will take place on campus — and virtually for those who can’t join in person — on June 2. All Harvard alumni from across the University are invited to attend. For more information and to register, visit