Commencement 2004: Honorands
Kate Seelye, Class of 1984
Doctor of Humane Letters
Kate Seelye is a familiar voice to National Public Radio listeners;
a reporter based in Beirut, Lebanon, she has reported widely on Arab and Middle
Eastern affairs from locations including Iraq, Kuwait, Egypt, and Algeria.
A 1984 Amherst graduate who majored in history and began her formal study of Arabic at the College, she grew up between Washington, D.C., and the Middle East, where her father, Talcott Seelye ’44, served as ambassador first to Tunisia and then to Syria. A true Amherst legacy, she is the fifth generation of her family to attend Amherst, in direct descent from Julius Hawley Seelye, an 1849 graduate who served as the College’s president from 1876 to 1890.
Before joining NPR as a journalist, Seelye worked for other prominent print and broadcast media outlets in the U.S. and abroad. A producer for public television’s NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, she also has been a reporter for The Los Angeles Times, Marketplace Radio, and BBC’s The World, among others.
Before her journalism career began, Seelye worked on films and documentaries in New York and Los Angeles. She has, for the moment, returned to that earlier career; she is currently on leave from NPR with a Fulbright grant, and is at work a documentary film about the history of U.S.-Arab relations in the context of the recent rise in anti-Americanism. She hopes to help make sense of the current crisis in American-Arab affairs while providing a broader understanding of the United States’ rich and complex involvement in the region.
As a student at Amherst, she says, she was encouraged to think critically, an invaluable tool for her as a journalist. Here she also learned the importance of history as a key to understanding the present. “Hostility toward U.S. policy,” she says, “should be examined in the light of the many historical factors that have played out in the Arab world, and which today affect people’s perceptions of America and its motives in the region.”
Photo: Michael Zide