Ayana Harry ’01 with alum and former teacher Nicky Stout Chapin ’52
As the Upper School students ambled into the Assembly Room on a recent Wednesday, celebrated political reporter and Chapin alum Ayana Harry ’01 waited in her front-row seat, her calm expression belying what she described later as her thrill at being back at 100 East End Avenue.
Ms. Harry joined us as this year’s speaker for our Nicky Chapin Lecture series, now in its 21st year and named for Nicky Stout Chapin ’52, an alumna and beloved former Chapin faculty member.
After a heartfelt introduction from Nicky Chapin herself, during which Mrs. Chapin excitedly announced that our guest had just won her third (!) Emmy Award, Ms. Harry joined her at the podium.
“When I received the invitation to join you all this morning, I was deeply honored and touched,” she said. “I vividly remember sitting in this room, dreaming about my future.”
Gazing out at the sea of faces, Ms. Harry smiled. “So, to be here today is special. This is a moment I will cherish.”
Before Ms. Harry launched into remarks that shone a light on her fascinating job with NY1 and significant milestones along the way, she paused to acknowledge where her path had begun.
“I learned so many lessons here at Chapin. And as I was preparing for today, it dawned on me just how much Chapin influenced my career,” Ms. Harry said, adding, “It was here where I learned to raise my hand with confidence, to speak up and to use my voice.”
A reporter for more than 15 years, Ms. Harry worked for ABC News, PIX11 and Fox61 in Connecticut before joining NY1, where she currently works, focusing on politics. Having enjoyed considerable success as a reporter covering major stories, such as Eric Garner’s death, the Sandy Hook school shooting, Haiti’s earthquake recovery efforts and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Ms. Harry didn’t always know what profession she wanted to pursue.
A politics major at Princeton who also took her share of finance classes, Ms. Harry was certain about two things: law school wasn’t for her, nor did she wish to sit at a desk at a place like an investment bank for eight hours a day.
“It was at that moment that I knew I needed a career where I could feel fulfilled, excited, engaged, every day,” Ms. Harry exclaimed. “I could have reached out to Chapin graduates, family, friends to learn more about their roles. I could have set up an appointment at Princeton’s career center and chatted with someone there. But me, being me, I decided to take a different approach. That decision changed my life.”
With a little chuckle, Ms. Harry let the audience in on her secret: she simply typed her interests – “government, media, television, current affairs, internship, New York City” – into a Google search bar. In seconds, an internship opportunity at a local New York news station appeared on her screen. Taking a chance, she sent in her resume and, to her surprise, landed an interview.
“That’s when I met a producer who believed in me and gave me a shot,” Ms. Harry recounted.
On her first day, witnessing all the pieces of an informative newscast coming together in a delightfully chaotic newsroom, Ms. Harry knew she was exactly where she belonged. “I was home...and ever since then, one word defines so much of who I am. I am a journalist!” Ms. Harry declared proudly.
Sparked by that early revelation, Ms. Harry remains unwavering in her dedication to documenting crucial events and issues and to reporting her findings with accuracy, thoughtfulness and compassion. She sometimes finds herself in hazardous situations like the time she covered a hurricane on Cape Cod and nearly missed being hit by a stop sign that catapulted through the air like a Frisbee.
“That’s when I learned, while we always want to get the story, that taking caution, moving with care is so important,” Ms. Harry reflected.
She shared other extraordinary reporting experiences with the students, including the catastrophic 2010 earthquake in Haiti, where she played a pivotal role in saving the life of a man who had been trapped in the rubble for 11 improbable days.
In addition to compassion – which is “at the core of what I do” – Ms. Harry emphasized the importance of clarity and “helping viewers know the difference between fact and political spin.” She explained to the students that journalistic ethics are more essential than ever, especially in these complex times with the ubiquitous presence of social media.
“I don’t have all the answers, but I do know this: The critical thinking skills you’re developing here at Chapin will be vital as you process both local and international events,” Ms. Harry told the rapt Upper School students. She advised them to “build your own list of reputable, trusted news sources and fact check any posts you see before accepting them as truth.” After her formal remarks, she kindly devoted time to answering questions from the students.
Ms. Harry left her audience – students, professional community members and a lively group of family and friends watching from the balcony – with one final promise: “As a journalist, I will continue to focus on fact-based reporting, leading with care, compassion and clarity.”
With these powerful words, Ayana Harry ’01’s generous and engrossing talk came to an end, filling the Assembly Room with enthusiastic applause.