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Remembering the Seniors

May 20, 2015

Hannah Allam, a foreign affairs correspondent for the McClatchy DC newspaper, will speak at the Class of 2015 Graduation Ceremony on May 16.

After graduating from the University of Oklahoma in 1999, Allam worked at the St. Paul Pioneer Press in Minnesota. In 2003 she was recruited by The McClatchy Company. Between 2003 and 2006, Allam covered the Iraq War and served as Baghdad Bureau chief, directing other reporters.

Allam has received multiple honors including the Journalist of the Year Award from the Association of Black Journalists (2004) and the Journalism Excellence Award (2004) from Knight Ridder, an American media company.

WP: What topics do you plan on covering in your speech at the graduation?

A: Well, a few weeks ago, I got a chance to speak with some of the student leaders at Harker, and I was brainstorming with them about themes, so I plan to incorporate some of the things that we talked about. One of the main things I heard was fear or uncertainty about what comes next because this is such a big moment for everyone who’s graduating. I’ve certainly had to work in roles that required courage that maybe I didn’t think that I had and, you know, learned along the way to take risks and to be prepared for challenges, and so I think I’ll probably incorporate some of those kinds of things. I have the framework – the skeleton – of the speech written but I’m still polishing it and writing new things and even some of the recent events around the country are inspiring me to edit it.

 

WP: What did you learn in high school regarding your career?

A: Not much, because I went to a high school in Oklahoma — south-side Oklahoma city — which didn’t have a lot of resources, so it didn’t even have a school paper. So, I didn’t get to do journalism until I went to college. I didn’t get to do much, but what I did learn from that high school was how to, I mean it was very racially diverse, so it was about tolerance, coexistence, learning about different religions and cultures, and those were all very valuable lessons to have had when I did go into journalism because that gave me a curiosity about the world.

 

WP: How did you end up choosing journalism as a career path?

A: Well, I always wanted to write and always enjoyed writing from a very young age, and even specifically, wanted to be a journalist from a very young age because I remember playing newscaster with my little brothers and I definitely was always aware that this profession was out there and that it sounded really exciting to go and meet all these different people and tell their stories, so I guess I just gravitated toward it because it was a way to write, which I wanted to do and make a living.

 

WP: How did it feel to be recruited by McClatchy to cover events in the Iraq war?

A: It was a huge honor and also the most terrifying moment of my life. I mean I was totally green, and this big company I hadn’t worked for for that long was going to take a huge risk on a 26 year old, so there was a lot of pressure to succeed.

 

WP: What motivated you to put your life at risk by being in a place that was dangerous at the time?

A: Well, I just was fascinated by Iraq, and it’s such a historical civilization, the cradle of civilization, Mesopotamia. I mean, it had created such a huge part in world history, and here’s this event unfolding in its modern day history, and I had the chance to cover it. How could I say no? It was a dream to get to be there. The war was the backdrop, for sure, to every report, but I was able to do stories about Iraqi culture, society, ordinary people, extraordinary people and show Iraq in what I hoped was a multidimensional way and not just through the prism of war and occupation.

Additional reporting by Maya Kumar.

This piece was originally published in the pages of The Winged Post on May 13, 2015.

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