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Leading the crowd of reporters in the White House briefing room, Kristen Welker ’98 sat in the front row, poised to ask about the ongoing fight over the debt limit and budget deal.
Unlike most of her fellow graduates from the Class of 1998, Welker spent the day before her class’ 25th reunion at the heart of the Biden administration.
Welker, NBC News’ chief White House correspondent and co-anchor of Weekend Today, is a broadcast journalist currently leading NBC’s coverage of President Joe Biden’s administration. Previously, she has also traveled around the world with former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama and reported on former President Donald Trump’s administration.
In her line of work, Welker is no stranger to asking tough questions to powerful individuals.
Following Trump’s impeachment in 2021, Welker turned to him in the Oval Office and asked what it felt like to be the third president in U.S. history to face such a sanction.
But Welker said those daunting moments were made easier by knowing that she was “prepared for the task at hand.”
“If you are prepared, you know that you have the facts on your side,” she said. “Part of covering the White House — or any beat — is coming in every day and knowing that you have done your homework.”
To Welker, her job comes with the imperative that she is ready to ask sharp questions and seek out answers.
“That is the role of a journalist: to really serve on behalf of the American people,” Welker said. “For the people who cannot be in the briefing room, who cannot be at the White House every day but who have important questions and important issues that they want addressed.”
Over the years, Welker has won national acclaim for her work as a broadcast journalist.
In 2011, she was nominated for an Emmy Award for her role in NBC’s midterm election reporting. Four years later, Welker won an Emmy, this time for her part in the network’s coverage of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.
But Welker’s road to the White House started early, and her love for political journalism set in during high school.
“I just got the bug,” she said. “My parents were involved in politics, and I got a very early front row seat to the role that journalists and journalism can have in our democracy.”
Arriving at Harvard her freshman year, Welker joined The Harvard Crimson — the University’s independent student newspaper — and got her first taste of college journalism.
One particular story, covering a fire that had torn through two Cambridge Street apartment buildings, left a lasting impression.
“I’ll never forget,” Welker said. “I went to downtown Boston, I was wearing nothing but a sweater — and I think it was freezing out — taking notes in a notepad.”
“It was incredibly invigorating to be there,” she added. “I felt an immense sense of responsibility, and I think that really solidified my desire to be a journalist.”
Welker, who concentrated in History, also wrote for the Harvard Independent. She said her work for both papers planted the “seeds of my skills as a journalist.”
“I remember sitting by my phone waiting for an interview subject to call me back, going in late at night to come up with headlines for the Independent, to bounce ideas around, to be in editing sessions,” Welker said.
Her time with college reporting taught her the “responsibility that journalists have to the community,” Welker said.
“You realize that these stories matter to people,” she said. “You’re covering people’s lives. You’re covering events that are impacting their homes, their neighborhood, and just being a witness to history.”
Despite the long hours she spent — and continues to spend — on journalism, Welker embraces the “awesome responsibility” of being a journalist and “writing the first draft of history.”
“When you are passionate about something, it doesn’t often fit neatly into a nine-to-five schedule,” she said. “You have to work a little bit harder.”
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