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Summer 2012

One on One: Ellen Gordon Reeves

Ellen Gordon ReevesEllen Gordon Reeves, Ed.M.'86, didn't set out to become a career and workplace expert. She never expected she would be consulting to individuals and institutions across the globe. But today, as a writer, consultant, and frequent guest on national television and radio shows, Reeves finds that her advice is often in high demand. A former member of the famed Hasty Pudding Theatricals, she has also dabbled since her undergraduate days in the entertainment industry, creating and performing in TALK SHOW, a series of live, improvised performances in New York. To top it off, she is the outgoing president of the Harvard Alumni Association (HAA), a title that came after volunteering for the HAA for nearly 30 years and chairing almost every HAA and parallel Radcliffe College Alumni Association committee since she graduated from Harvard College in 1983.

Was writing always a focus for you? My mother began her career as a magazine editor and both my parents were wonderful writers and editors. They helped me write my first resume and were always willing to sit with me and my two younger sisters to talk about ideas and then edit whatever we wrote, so I began to help classmates in secondary school with any kinds of writing they had to do. Even in elementary school, I volunteered to help nursery and kindergarten students with reading and writing. I loved teaching. So you came to the Ed School. Harriet Hoffheinz, then at Radcliffe Career Services, the greatest career counselor one could hope to have and now a friend, recommended that I start by taking a course at the Ed School when I told her I wanted to help people one-on-one with their writing. I was hooked; I registered for the master's program after that. I worked in the Irony and Sarcasm Group with [Professor] Howard Gardner and Ellen Winner at Project Zero. No kidding.

Are you a natural on camera? Before my book, Can I Wear My Nose Ring to the Interview?, came out in 2008, I had never been on TV. Then, suddenly I was on all the time, making guest appearances on shows such as The CBS Early Show, CNN's Your Money, EXTRA, and ABC's Money Matters, and I discovered a real affinity for the medium.

It's not a surprise then that you were involved with the Hasty Pudding Theatricals. Best memory? One of my favorite Hasty Pudding memories was when Ella Fitzgerald was named Woman of the Year in 1982. She sang a few songs including "A Train" for us — just the cast and crew and the Krokodiloes in the upstairs bar of the old Hasty Pudding Theater — and I remember thinking, this lady is really good. Then I realized I had heard her sing before, and suddenly I thought, wow, I know who this is: It's the lady from the Memorex commercial. All I can say is, my musical knowledge has certainly evolved since.

How does your education background fit in with your creative side? Teaching is performing. I never understood how much of what I loved about teaching came from the performance aspect. I took a course with Vernon Howard on art and education, but until I studied at Second City and until I began doing television and finally created my own live show, I hadn't made the connection. My desire is not only to perform and have an audience, but also to teach people things about themselves and the world around them that they didn't know they knew. As a teacher, my goal is to find the adult in the child and the child in the adult, and I think that's also the essence of performance and play.

Why go to all of your class reunions? I love connecting people and meeting people. I always say: If there are two alums in a room, it's a reunion, even a virtual one. If I could meet and talk to every single person in the world, and hear what they're looking for or hoping for in life and introduce them to the people who could make that happen, that would be the greatest thing. Being involved with the Harvard Alumni Association lets me try to do that in a tiny way. As the old Radcliffe College commemorative litany so aptly expressed, "to be even so small a part of so great a thing is greatness itself," and that's how I feel about Harvard.

What is your best advice to job seekers? The mantra of my book, which is the essence of my role as a teacher and as this year's president of the HAA, is: Stop looking for a job (or whatever you're looking for) and start looking for a person. The right person will lead you to the right job or opportunity. Everything we need is usually right under our noses and in our own communities, but we need to reach out, and we need to learn how to reach out in the right way.

Have you ever given advice that you later regretted? Sure. But I don't want to regret putting it in print now, so my advice about bad advice is: forget about it and move on.