Campus & Community

Maria Ressa named 2024 Commencement speaker

Maria Ressa.
3 min read

Nobel Prize-winning defender of press freedom will deliver principal address

Maria Ressa, a journalist, media entrepreneur, and leading advocate for freedom of the press, will be the principal speaker at Harvard’s 373rd Commencement on May 23.

“Maria Ressa embodies Veritas. For nearly 40 years, she has dedicated herself to truth — its pursuit, its advocacy, and its defense — no matter the repercussions,” said interim President Alan Garber. “Her unshakable commitment to free expression and her courageous fight against disinformation are an inspiration to all who value democracy. We look forward to welcoming her to campus and to acknowledging her outstanding contributions to society.”

Ressa is co-founder and CEO of Rappler, a digital news outlet in the Philippines focused on investigative journalism, editorial independence, and stories that hold government leaders and institutions accountable by providing a platform for citizen engagement. Under Ressa’s leadership, Rappler has remained committed to journalistic integrity and credible storytelling, while advancing innovative media approaches using data and crowdsourcing.

Ressa shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021 with Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov for what the Nobel Committee cited as “their courageous efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace.”  The committee noted that in the face of growing threats to freedom of the press, Ressa used “freedom of expression to expose abuse of power, use of violence, and growing authoritarianism in her native country.” She was the first Filipina to be awarded the prize.

Prior to co-founding Rappler, Ressa was an investigative reporter on terrorism in Southeast Asia and opened two CNN Bureaus, first in Manila and then in Jakarta. After nearly 20 years with CNN, Ressa returned to Manila to work at ABS-CBN, the largest news organization in the Philippines, where she served as senior vice president of multimedia news operations and managed nearly 1,000 journalists.

For her work exposing disinformation on social media, Ressa was named Time Magazine’s 2018 Person of the Year. She was also one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People of 2019 and was named one of Time’s Most Influential Women of the Century.

Ressa has earned numerous awards, including the John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award, the Golden Pen of Freedom Award from the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, the 2021 Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize from UNESCO, and the Knight International Journalism Award from the International Center for Journalists.

Ressa has authored three books — “Seeds of Terror: An Eyewitness Account of Al-Qaeda’s Newest Center of Operations in Southeast Asia,” “From Bin Laden to Facebook,” and more recently, “How to Stand Up to a Dictator.” She is an inaugural Carnegie Distinguished Fellow at the Institute of Global Politics at Columbia University, and in July will join Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs faculty as a professor of professional practice. She currently serves as the vice chair of the leadership panel of the Internet Governance Forum, appointed by the United Nations Secretary General in 2022.

Born in the Philippines, Ressa grew up in the U.S. after her family migrated in 1973. She graduated cum laude from Princeton University in 1986 with a B.A. degree in English and certificates in theater and dance. She will also be awarded an honorary degree.

Recent Harvard Commencement speakers include Oscar-winning actor and humanitarian Tom Hanks; former New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern; U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland; former Washington Post editor Martin Baron; and former German Chancellor Angela Merkel.