On Mar. 11 the Office of the President announced Arianna Huffington as the speaker for Vassar’s 151st Commencement ceremony. This year’s commencement will take place on Sunday, Mar. 31. Huffington is one of the co-founders and the current Editor-in-Chief of The Huffington Post, as well as an entrepreneur, politician and writer. Her worldview has been strongly influenced by her background as a Greek immigrant and through her work as both a conservative and liberal political commentator.
As a popular online news source, The Huffington Post is often viewed as a main source of information for people around the world. Huffington’s role as a female journalist has inspired her to bring often-silenced voices to the fore. “There are still many institutional and cultural barriers, but there are also internal barriers to women’s careers,” wrote Huffington in an emailed statement. “I call this voice the obnoxious roommate living in our head. It feeds on putting us down and strengthening our insecurities and doubts.”
Huffington was born in Athens, Greece and moved to the United States when she was 30, after living in the United Kingdom for 14 years and studying at Cambridge University. Huffington started her career as an author in the 1970s. She wrote a book entitled “The Female Woman,” which critiqued the women’s liberation movement. She was first subject to the public eye as wife of Republican Senatorial candidate, Michael Huffington. Following her divorce in 1997, Huffington’s political views took a dramatic turn and the long-time conservative adopted views that leaned much further left. As professor of Political Science Richard Born noted, “I suppose the most interesting thing about Arianna Huffington is her 180-degree shift in the late 1990s from conservative to liberal. I’ve never come across a really convincing explanation for this transformation, even though I suspect that her divorce from former Republican Congressman Michael Huffington played a role.”
Today, Huffington is known primarily for the political commentary website she founded called The Huffington Post. In 2011, AOL purchased the site and named Huffington as the Editor-and-Chief. The Post is primarily a site for political commentary, offering opinion-based pieces about events on Capitol Hill. The site has begun producing news content as well. Some have criticized the website, however, for blending fact and opinion-based work. Born argued, “The main criticism I have of web sites like the Huffington Post is that they contribute to the ‘echo chamber’ phenomenon i.e., they promote polarization by allowing readers to pick and choose what political information they’re exposed to on the basis of ideological predisposition (the Huffington Post, however, isn’t quite as politically unbalanced as so many others).”
Editor-in-Chief of the Vassar Chronicle, Zach Struver, however, pushed back on this idea, arguing that to some degree, every news publication features biased commentary. “Commentary-based news publications are essential. Journalists have insisted for too long, often with a wink and a nudge, that they’re ‘objective.’ Objectivity in the media forces journalists to mask their opinions as fact, and I think that’s extremely dangerous,” he wrote in an emailed statement.
Huffington maintains, however, that her main concern for research is not on a lack of data but on a lack of reliable voices to present that data. She wrote, “90 percent of the data now available to us has been created in the last two years. But how much of our collective wisdom has been made available in the last two years? What we’re lacking is not data, but wisdom. Which is no surprise; it has never been harder to tap into our inner wisdom, because in order to do so, we have to disconnect from all our omnipresent devices—our gadgets, our screens, our social media—and reconnect with ourselves.”
Even with the criticism about The Huffington Post, many are still excited to have Huffington on campus. Vassar does not consistently offer many courses relating to journalism and some students are excited to hear this voice. As the editor of a journalism-focused publication, Struver still values the importance of the website, and journalism in general, in today’s mainstream media. “Vassar students know a lot about what journalism is and what it means to write and publish,” wrote Struver. “The problem is that we have a culture here of psuedo-engagement with political ideas–attending one rally and then calling oneself an ‘ally’ or ‘activist’–that lets Vassar students absolve themselves of the very real sin of not actively participating in discourse.”
While speaking at Vassar, Huffington hopes to encourage students to be more active in their engagement with politics and activism. She wants to help the upcoming grads to understand how to be as successful as possible in their future endeavors. To her, it is important that students understand that self-care is an important part of success. “For far too long, we have been operating under the collective delusion that burning out is the necessary price for accomplishment and success,” wrote Huffington. “Recent scientific findings make it clear that this couldn’t be less true. Not only is there no tradeoff between living a well-rounded life and high performance, performance is actually improved when our lives include time for renewal, wisdom, wonder and giving.”
Huffington’s goal is to help graduating seniors redetermine the methods through which to achieve the success they want. She finished, “The time has come to reexamine the assumption that getting by on less sleep and constant multitasking is an express elevator to the top.”