Becca Damante ’17
Last Friday and Saturday, Smith College hosted a two-day women’s leadership conference that focused on pushing boundaries in the professional and personal spheres. The weekend culminated in a keynote speech from Sara Haines ’00, who is currently a co-host on the Emmy-nominated talk show “The View” and a correspondent for ABC News.
Perhaps best known for her work alongside Kathie Lee and Hoda Kotb on NBC’s “Today Show,” Haines began her career in journalism as part of the NBC Page Program. Prior to her speech at the conference, I had a chance to sit down with her and talk about her time at Smith College and her work in broadcast journalism.
While at Smith, you majored in government and played on the basketball and volleyball teams. How did Smith prepare you for the outside world?
Smith was like the hardest time in my adult life…I look at it as the beginning of shaping me to leave, to grow up, to be on my own…Being among Smithies set me up for success from the work ethic [to] the discipline….It reminded me that there’s always going to be someone smarter than you, better than you, working harder. I always had to do everything twice here, every reading assignment just to make sure I understood it. [If there were] office hours, I always had to be there. I think I was always a worker, but Smith was just this humbling experience of how great the world could be.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned about broadcast journalism since you’ve been in the industry?
I think the biggest thing I’ve learned in this business is that no one else can do you as well as you can….I think we spend so much [of] life, especially the teenage years into those growing college years trying to figure out what we are — wearing different masks, wearing different hats and trying to fit in. When you peel it all away, you actually become what you were supposed to. For me, the timing of my career lined up with people who just wanted me the way I am.
In 2016, you joined the “The View” and have been able to interview prominent figures such as Chelsea Clinton, Jennifer Lopez, and Lena Dunham. Who were you most excited to meet?
There are so many legendary people that have come through “The View.” But [before that], I had the opportunity to meet George W. Bush and George H. W. Bush because I became good friends with Jenna Bush at the “Today Show…” My husband and I visited them in Maine, and we came in, and it was one of the most surreal moments of my life. Just the history of it all coming full circle…When I thought I might not go into TV, I wanted to pursue a PhD and possibly specialize in presidential history….I remember once at a party at King House someone was like ‘Sara do the presidents,’ and I would name the presidents in order. Only at Smith would that be a cool party trick (laughs).
Who else would you like to interview that you have not yet?
I wish I could have a conversation with Hillary Clinton, and I don’t mean a political conversation. There are so many things that I’ve learned that I didn’t realize: the pressures of her being a First Lady throughout her career and possibly the setbacks that teed her up for the stumbles, the mistakes. I would love to loosen her up a little and actually ask her some hard-hitting questions because she fascinates me.
What do you hope to achieve professionally over the next five years?
[Right now,] I think I’ve found a platform where…I can be as honest and real as possible. I think I’ve really found a cathartic element in that with having a baby…While I was pregnant, the New York Times article came out about the concern of depression while pregnant, not just after pregnant. I dealt with some of that. I dealt with postpartum [depression]. I struggled with breastfeeding…So I hope in the next five years, I can continue to find that voice, that platform and those topics that resonate with people because I get more from it than they do just knowing that I’m not alone.
What advice would you give graduating seniors and/or aspiring journalists?
For journalists specifically, I would say write, write, and continue to write because I think writing, whether it’s in TV production or news, they always [ask] can you write, can you write?
I [also] think getting back to the merits of original journalism: fact-checking, double sourcing, remembering when you use words like ‘someone’s a liar’ that you’re gauging their intent. You’re not speaking just in fact…and also remembering your personality [is important].
[For] people just heading out into the world, I wish I could tell myself looking back that everything was going to be okay. Like you can’t see the road ahead even though you think you know what it’s going to look like. I think continuing to shed the shoulds, like what you should do, what you thought you should do, what your parents think you should do [is key]. At 39, I’m still shedding the shoulds and getting rid of that weight of expectation and finding who I am.
SMITH SPEED ROUND:
Which house or houses did you live in while at Smith?
King and Emerson.
Which was your favorite Smith tradition or Smith event?
Mountain Day and the Smiffenpoofs. I [also] loved tea!
What was your favorite place to eat downtown?
I loved Haymarket, Herrell’s, and Taipei Tokyo.
While at Smith, what music did you listen to? I broke up with my high school boyfriend while I was here, and I played Celine Dion’s (sings lyrics) [“It’s All Coming Back to Me Now.”] I loved Ani DiFranco. And I loved the Poofs…I also got into a little bit of a punk phase my junior year.
What is one class or professor you will always remember?
I loved Alice Hearst. I took Constitutional Law from her. I loved the American Presidency with Marc Lendler. I loved Political Theory. I can’t remember the professor’s name, but [at] my first class on campus, he said: “We are not here to teach you a trade. We are here to teach you to think.” And I never forgot that.