Award-winning NPR journalist Leila Fadel to deliver Northeastern’s graduate Commencement address

Leila Fadel. Courtesy photo.

This is part of our coverage of Northeastern’s 2022 Commencement exercises. For more information, including a livestream, photos, and live coverage throughout the day, visit our dedicated Commencement page.

Leila Fadel, an NPR reporter and co-host of the public news organization’s banner show, Morning Edition, will deliver Northeastern University’s graduate student Commencement address on Friday, May 13, at 10 a.m.

Fadel, who recently returned to the U.S. from a monthlong reporting trip in Kyiv, Ukraine, took over as a co-host of Morning Edition and another NPR show, Up First, earlier this year. She’ll address more than 3,500 graduate students and their families and friends during a ceremony at Boston’s iconic Fenway Park.

The ceremony, which will include a special musical performance featuring more than 150 student-musicians, is one of 26 academic ceremonies this year across the university network. Northeastern will celebrate its graduates from coast to coast in the U.S., as well as at its campuses in London and Canada.

“I was excited to get the call,” Fadel said. “For me, this is about speaking to people at a moment where they’re making a huge change in their life, or a start in their adult life—a moment to talk to people about how to make a difference in the world.”

Before she joined the host desk, Fadel was a national correspondent at NPR, covering race and policing in the country during a tumultuous time in its history. Fadel reported from Minneapolis in the wake of the police-killing of George Floyd, which spawned a new wave of racial justice protests around the world. In 2019, she won the prestigious Goldziher Prize for her series called “Muslims in America: A New Generation,” created in collaboration with National Geographic.

“Not many professions place a premium on the real world the way journalism does,” said Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun. “An authentic storyteller, Leila Fadel has shared the experiences of countless people around the world while enriching the lives of many more with her reporting. She started her journey here at Northeastern and has built a truly remarkable career. We are delighted to welcome Leila back to share her journey with our graduates.”

Fadel’s award-winning work dives deep into complex stories that might otherwise be oversimplified. Fadel grew up in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, and in an interview with her NPR colleague Sommer Hill, she says that she was drawn to journalism after watching coverage of the Gulf War or the Lebanese Civil War.

“I felt like I didn’t see people that looked or sounded like me or people I knew,” she told Hill. “I wanted to be able to get into this industry to fill that out, to stop making people so two-dimensional, especially when it came to conflict in the region.”

By 2005, Fadel was covering the Iraq War for Knight Ridder, a media company that was bought by the publishing company McClatchy in 2006. By then, Fadel had done two postings in Baghdad, and returned to the region for her new employer. She covered the Lebanon War in 2006, as well.

In 2007, Fadel won a George Polk Award in foreign reporting for her “chilling, first-hand accounts of ethnically inspired violence and murder in Iraq,” according to information from Long Island University, which hosts the awards.

In 2010, Fadel joined the Washington Post’s Middle East team. She covered the Arab Spring and its aftermath in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, and Syria. In 2012, she was hired by NPR as its Cairo bureau chief, where her coverage of the region in the wake of the uprisings continued.

Most recently, Fadel reported from Kyiv and Lviv, bringing listeners into the heart of Ukraine under siege from Russia.

“Reporting in places that are being plunged into war and invasion like the one in Ukraine is always devastating, because you’re speaking to people on the worst days of their lives,” Fadel said. “People are deciding whether to leave their city or stay and risk their lives.”

What stuck with her—from her reporting in Ukraine, as well as from past reporting on conflict in Syria, Libya, and Iraq—is the “senselessness of moments like this,” Fadel said.

“That always strikes me: How much destruction and loss of life—and over what?” she added.

Fadel’s Commencement address will be another sort of homecoming—she graduated from Northeastern’s School of Journalism in 2004. Her time at Northeastern, Fadel said, gave her practical tools for finding a job in her field.

And, in the 18 years since graduating, Fadel has traveled a career path that’s included coverage of seminal moments in world history.

“Those experiences taught me about the core of what it is to be a human being,” she said. “In moments of extreme change, you see the most beautiful and ugliest parts of humanity coming out. The one thing I’ve always told myself is that when I stop being fascinated, curious, devastated, elated by this rollercoaster of life, that’s when I’ll leave journalism. But, so far, I feel really lucky to bear witness in this way.”

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