Back when Washington Bureau Chief of USA TODAY Susan Page
was in middle school in Wichita, Kansas conducting interviews and writing articles for her school newspaper — copies of which were mimeographed — she could never have imagined that she would become widely considered one of the great political reporters of our era.
Ms. Page has covered the White House and national politics for decades. She has interviewed nine presidents and covered 10 presidential campaigns. During a career spanning more than three decades, she has reported from six continents and dozens of countries and interviewed newsmakers from physicist Stephen Hawking to Jordan’s King Abdullah II, from actual secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and Henry Kissinger to TV secretary of State Tea Leoni. Sought out to share her expertise and insight, Ms. Page regularly appears as an analyst on programs and networks including the PBS NewsHour, Face the Nation, Fox News Sunday, CBS This Morning, NPR, CNN, MSNBC and Fox News. This spring, she published The Matriarch: Barbara Bush and the Making of an American Dynasty. She recently signed a contract to write a biography of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
Ms. Page is also the mother of Lab School alumnus, Will Leufsdorf ’06, who attended Lab from his early Elementary years until seventh grade. He graduated from Field School and Hamilton College, and a few weeks ago, received his Master’s Degree in Secondary Education, Social Studies from George Washington University, Graduate School of Education and Human Development. “Will received a rich and wonderful education at Lab,” says Ms. Page. “And as a family, we are very grateful to Lab.”
As a long-time political reporter, Ms. Page has seen history in the making as well as the field of journalism change as innovations in technology have exploded and “instant news” has become the norm. That said, Ms. Page often tells her journalism students, “Technology has transformed the way we do our jobs — the delivery system has changed — but journalism has remained the same. We are still reporting and analyzing the news to make it accessible for people.”
One of Ms. Page’s most memorable interviews was with physicist Stephen Hawking. “I interviewed Stephen Hawking in 2000 when he was in the United States at a conference about the new millennium,” she says. “He was almost completely physically disabled, answering my questions by picking letters one at a time with his thumb (which he would later be able to do through improved technology with his eye), but he was incredibly dynamic, engaging, and funny. It was such an honor to speak with him, and despite the communication challenges, we had an amazing interview.”
One of her most challenging interviews was early in her career when she a junior reporter at the Washington Bureau for New York’s Newsday. “I was sent on three trips to southeast Asia to cover the Boat People crisis [refugees who fled Vietnam by boat and ship following the end of the Vietnam War in 1975]. I went to several refugee camps, which was unusual at that time as few international journalists were given access. I had no assistant, no photographer, so it was just me trying to figure it all out. Covering that story was difficult and entailed a significant learning curve, but it was an experience to truly grow and hone my skills. And it was definitely enriching in human terms.”
Advice for budding journalists? Be prepared, do your research, and listen. “The best advice I appropriated from Robert Caro, the great journalist and author known for his biographies of Lyndon B. Johnson, who writes ‘SU’ in his margins as he takes notes during an interview. It stands for ‘shut up’ as the best information often comes when you stay quiet and let the person talk, uninterrupted. That’s crucial,” she says. “I’ve also learned the value of saying ‘I don’t know” when asked a question. Being honest about not knowing something is far better than plowing through; there is great peril in trying to talk through what you don’t know.”
At her son Will’s recent GW graduation, one of the Education School graduates had pasted a colorful message across the top of her mortar board: “Different, Not Less!” Ms. Page said she, of course, thought of Lab. “The fact is that everyone has got something that’s a particular challenge. Maybe it surfaces when you are young, or maybe later in life,” she says. “Overcoming one’s challenges, figuring out strategies or alternate routes is part of being human. And who isn’t a better person for having tackled those challenges and come out the other side?”
The Lab School is greatly looking forward to having Ms. Page serve as our 2019 graduation speaker.