The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy hosted the sixth annual Fletcher Women’s Leadership Award (FWLA) ceremony last night. At the ceremony, Fletcher alumnae Karoun Demirjian (F’06) and Siobhan MacDermott (F’13) were honored for making a meaningful impact in the world through their careers.
Demirjian, who graduated from the Fletcher School with her Master of Arts in law and diplomacy in 2006, was honored first for her contributions as a reporter for the Washington Post. Alice Finn, chair of the FWLA Committee, highlighted aspects of Demirjian’s career, such as her correspondence in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza for the Associated Press and her work covering the conflict in Ukraine. Currently, Demirjian is focusing on the House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.
Demirjian began her speech declaring that she doesn’t see herself as model alumna to receive a career award.
“Basically, I spent my first few years after Fletcher just trying to hang on and assuming massive amounts of debt,” she said, noting that she had difficulty holding down a journalism job for years after graduating.
Demirjian credits the education she received at Fletcher for helping her find her way to eventually being a foreign correspondent, and then to covering events in Washington, D.C.
“Nobody comes to the Fletcher School because they want a preordained path, but it does give you the tools to be able to carve out your own. I learned how to question the status quo here and really, really dig. You can draw a straight line from that to investigative journalism. Even more importantly, this was the most diverse student body I’ve ever been a part of and probably the most diverse group of people that I’ve ever existed in, and that forces you to listen. If you’re a reporter and not listening, you’re not getting the story,” she said.
She also highlighted the importance of honoring a reporter in an academic space like this and continuing to support journalism as much as possible.
“I think it’s really great that Fletcher is honoring a reporter this year. Attitudes are clearly changing in this political time and in this internet age, I think people are starting to come around to the idea that having well sourced information quickly turned around is important,” she said.
Demirjian closed her talk by calling on the crowd to support journalism by subscribing to their local media outlets.
The second honoree, MacDermott, graduated in 2013 with a Master of Arts in international relations. She currently works as vice chairperson of global and corporate investment banking at Bank of America. Like Demirjian, MacDermott credited her Fletcher education for the skills it gave her to effectively do her job.
“As I walked into the room at Fletcher, I looked around and realized that I was one of two people that came from the corporate world in the program. When we sat in our groups, and we tried to apply these corporate world policies, especially from Wall Street on how to get stuff done, it didn’t really work. I learned so much from my classmates. We had people from NGOs, we had people from governments from all over the world, and really being able to sit and listen to them and understand their concerns about how things are being done made me rethink everything,” MacDermott said.
When she started to work at Bank of America in a position concerned with cyber public policy, the Fletcher School alumni network helped her succeed.
“I have people all over the world I could call and say, ‘Hey, what’s going on? Can you tell me what’s happening in your country? How are people thinking about this? What’s going on over here? How do we piece all these pieces together?’ which was something I wouldn’t have been able to do anywhere nearly as successfully beforehand,” MacDermott said.
MacDermott also specifically addressed the issues that she’s faced as a woman in a male-dominated industry.
“I don’t think [there] was probably a more male-dominated profession out there [than financial services]. But it is changing. You’re starting to see more women at the top and more women in leadership positions and more gender parity in boardrooms, but it’s still difficult,” she said.
The event closed with a question and answer session with the Dean of the Fletcher School Rachel Kyte.