A Pulitzer-Prize Winner’s Story

November 8, 2012—For once, alumna and journalist Mary Jordan (C’83) was the one answering questions.

As a foreign correspondent, Jordan has spent much of her career abroad. She recently returned to Washington, DC, and visited Georgetown to talk with students and Dean Chester Gillis at a Dean’s Lunch Seminar. These gatherings allow students to learn about the trajectory of graduates’ personal and professional lives after Georgetown. Jordan fielded questions from 20 students interested in everything from how she got started and how she finds stories to how she sees the future of journalism.

Jordan began her career in journalism at the Washington Post about 25 years ago and has been co-chief of bureaus in Tokyo, Mexico City, and most recently London. Now back in Washington, DC, she is the editor of Washington Post Live, which hosts forums and events with the Post’s journalists and leaders in government and business.

As students asked about which majors and courses to pursue, Jordan explained the value of a strong liberal arts education. Although she did not study journalism as an undergraduate student, Jordan’s education at Georgetown has heavily influenced her career. “I have spent the bulk of my writing career on poverty and social justice issues,” she said. “I spent a lot of time in prisons and courts, and I directly relate that to my time at Georgetown because I was always interested in—and believed in—the Jesuit teaching that we are how we treat the rest of us. And you’re happiest when you’re helping others,” she continued.

Committed to social justice issues, Jordan has written about Mexican prisons and courts, discrimination against women, and DC public housing. In 2003, Jordan and her husband and fellow journalist Kevin Sullivan won a Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of the Mexican criminal justice system. One story led Jordan to an island prison of the coast of Mexico where she heard about Mary Clarke, a nun in Tijuana. Clarke became the subject of Jordan and Sullivan’s book The Prison Angel: Mother Antonia’s Journey from Beverly Hills to a Life of Service in a Mexican Jail (2006).

For budding journalists, Jordan stressed the importance of one fundamental skill: writing. “You have to know how to write. You have to spend time on it,” she said. Jordan recalled a moment with one of her professors, then University President Timothy Healy, S.J. Father Healy showed her all of the drafts he wrote for a single piece of writing. Jordan realized that writing would be a lifelong process. “It’s hard for me, and I’ve been doing this a long time,” she laughed. “If you want to write, you got to put the time in. That’s the thing that makes good writing. There’s no shortcut.”

Jordan’s hard work has given her a career where she continues to learn new things every day—a value she recommended to students. Her assignments abroad have sent her back to school to learn Japanese and Spanish, but each article presents a chance to learn a new subject. “I still feel like it’s graduate school,” she said. “You never know in the morning what’s going to happen that day.”

Over the course of her career, Jordan has found herself interviewing prisoners in Mexico, cooks at Buckingham Palace, and celebrities like Paul McCartney, but she stressed that students don’t have to wait until after graduation to meet interesting people. She told students to relish in the opportunities on Georgetown’s campus, where each day a new expert or leader may be speaking on campus.

“I think this campus is just brimming with possibility. College is a cool time to open your mind and do something out of the box.”

—Elizabeth Wilson


More About Dean’s Lunch Seminars

These lunches are held throughout the year with alumni from every industry. Learn more about the Dean’s Lunch Seminars and see an up-to-date schedule.