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Smith Medalist Jane Lakes Harman ’66: ‘Identify Your Dream’

Supporting Smith

Jane Harman headshot

Published February 14, 2022

Jane Lakes Harman ’66, a Democrat from California, is a nine-term member of Congress—the first Smith alum to be elected to Congress. During her time in office, she became an internationally recognized authority on U.S. and international security, foreign relations and policymaking—undertaking hundreds of diplomatic missions around the world. Prior to her election, Harman, a graduate of Harvard Law School, held several positions within the government, including deputy secretary to the cabinet of President Jimmy Carter and special counsel to the Department of Defense. Harman is currently a distinguished fellow and president emerita of the Wilson Center. She is the author of Insanity Defense: Why Our Failure to Confront Hard National Security Problems Makes Us Less Safe.

Harman will receive the Smith College Medal during Rally Day, which will be celebrated virtually on February 24 beginning at 1:30 p.m. The event will be streamed on Smith College’s Facebook page.

What is your proudest accomplishment?

When I gave the Smith commencement address for the first time in 1994, I said that dreams don’t come true, they must be pursued. I am proud that I pursued my dream to serve in senior roles in politics, and equally proud that along the way I had four interesting and bright children who in turn produced eight perfect grandchildren.

What lessons did you learn at Smith that continue to resonate with you today?

I give Smith credit for teaching me self-confidence, the crucial ingredient that enabled me to succeed.

What’s your advice to the senior class?

Try to identify your dream—or at least what you are passionate about—and pursue it. Don’t opt out when things get hard, as they inevitably will. Failure is your friend: It makes you stronger.

What does receiving the Smith Medal mean to you?

Attending Smith was a huge honor for me, so being honored with the Smith Medal is humbling.

Is there a particular issue that you would like to see Smithies work together to solve?

I would like to see Smithies be involved in healing the enormous divisions in this country. But I don’t think anything should be considered off limits.

As part of Rally Day this year, the board of trustees is pledging to give a collective gift of $450,000 in support of financial aid if at least 2,022 donations are made to The Smith Fund before the end of the month. Why is supporting Smith important to you?

Every woman who is qualified deserves a chance at a Smith education. Diversity in the student body enriches the school and everyone in it.