Alma Guillermoprieto NF ’05

Born in Mexico, Guillermoprieto has reported on Latin America for The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books. Her journalism has been collected in “Looking for History” and “The Heart That Bleeds”

Unwisely, I chose at 18 not to go to college. The world beyond high school seemed much too interesting to even consider trading it in for the safety of academic walls.

I never gave that decision a second thought, nor was it even an issue in my mind when I decided to apply for a Nieman Fellowship. I thought I was going to Cambridge to get a little rest, a respite from the interesting world that had kept me spinning for too many years. And then I got the Harvard course catalog in the mail, flipped through it casually, and was suddenly in a froth of excitement. Oh, the places I'd go, the things I would see, merely by sitting in a classroom!

Thanks to the Nieman program, I realized, I had for the first time in my life the unrestricted luxury of time, which is not quite the same as the space in which to get a little rest. Newly energized, I circled courses, tore out pages, organized schedules, breathless with the thrill of it.

In the end, I audited three courses each semester: Tom Kelly's First Nights, Greg Nagy's heroes, and Robert Levin's early music are the standouts in my memory. At the end of each class, I would walk across campus absolutely hugging myself with joy at my good luck. How was it that I had managed to land in a place that gave me unrestricted access to so much beauty and to the dazzling ways of seeing proposed by such inspired lecturers?

No other time in my life has been so luxurious. My Nieman moment came at the start of the first day of classes, when I realized I was at last free to be a student.

To be given the freedom to choose what one wants to learn and to do so at one of the very greatest universities in the world made me alive to the fact that there is a compelling world beyond journalism.

I've been doing a great deal of teaching since my Nieman year, and the most interesting project I've worked on since—an online altar for Central American migrants murdered in Mexico—was only laterally involved with journalism. The talks I give range more widely beyond journalism's borders than would have seemed possible to me 10 years ago. All these things are largely a result of the time I spent at Harvard and at Lippmann House.