Farrow’s Advice to Grads

When writer Ronan Farrow gave LMU’s 2018 undergraduate commencement address on May 4, he was fresh from receiving a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service three weeks earlier. He had been honored for his fall 2017 New Yorker magazine articles that brought to light allegations of sexual assault against film producer Harvey Weinstein, stories that helped launch a nationwide movement to highlight abuse against women.

Farrow said he wanted to talk about doing difficult but important work when the outcome is not yet clear, “when fighting for what’s right seems pointless, and losing is personally and professionally costly.”

While researching his story, Farrow said, he faced discouragement and opposition on many fronts. He felt was not being institutionally supported by his news organization, his book publisher had dropped him, and his agent was skeptical that his reporting would have an impact. Facing personal and legal threats — even being followed, he said — Farrow moved out of his house. Feeling both heartbroken and scared, he doubted himself at times.

“In hindsight,” Farrow said, “it’s always clear whether or not your choices were the right ones. … In the moment, you don’t know if you’re fighting because you’re right or if you’re fighting because your ego and your desire to win and your notion of yourself as the hero in your own story is clouding your own judgment.”

Farrow decided, partly out of a sense of responsibility and obligation to the women who had shared their stories with him, that he had to proceed despite his uncertainty. Making such a decision at a critical moment in life was the lesson Farrow offered the class of 2018.

“You will face a moment in your career where you have absolutely no idea what to do, where it will be totally unclear to you what is the right thing to do. … Trust that inner voice, because more than ever we need people to be guided by their own sense of principle and not the whims of a culture that prizes ambition and sensationalism and celebrity and vulgarity and whatever it takes to win.”