Lauren Bohn ’05 Urges Girls to “Create Their Own Lives”

International journalist Lauren Bohn ’05 came to campus on Tuesday, January 27, and gave the students a glimpse at the wide world of possibilities that await them. “Life isn’t about finding yourself,” she told the girls assembled in the auditorium. “Life is about creating yourself.” She told the girls that it is up to them to set the tone for their own life story.

Lauren is certainly living her vision. As a multimedia journalist based in Istanbul, she has covered the political and socioeconomic news of the Middle East and Africa since 2009, including reporting from Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, the U.A.E., Israel, Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Bahrain, Jordan, Zambia, Malawi, and Nigeria.

Speaking in front of a screen filled with her photos from the Middle East, Lauren urged the girls to strive for perspective and gratitude.

“Someone somewhere is dealing with harder challenges,” she said. “Use that as momentum to work harder, to love harder.”

Bohn’s presentation introduced the audience to several of the people Lauren has met and written about in her work. A Syrian woman living as a refugee in Lebanon cooks with other women of all faiths and nationalities, making the best of her difficult situation. Shakira, a Malawi girl, faces huge obstacles just to get to school every day. Brothers Khairy, 22 and Fouad, 17, are Yazidis who fled ISIS. Bohn met them at their refugee tent city Iraqi Kurdistan. She noted that despite their extremely difficult circumstances, they are “just like two guys at Malvern Prep.”

Lauren translated one of her stories into action, co-founding the SchoolCycle project through the UN Foundation to get bicycles to Shakira and other schoolgirls in Malawi. Many girls in that country walk as far as 10 miles to school, and the bike program is designed to make it easier for them to travel back and forth.

Villa students supported the program with donations all week, and Sr. Regina presented Lauren with a check for $1,500. The organization’s first effort, the most successful campaign in the UN Foundation’s ten year history, raised enough to buy 550 bikes, which will be distributed in the spring. They will undertake the next phase after completing an evaluation, Bohn said, in order to determine where they can be most effective.

Lauren told the Villa girls that her passion for international affairs was sparked in part by her VMA trip to the Dominican Republic, saying she “felt a click” that seeing the world was what she wanted to do. She also fondly remembered Mr. Magnus telling her, when she was frustrated with an assignment, “Maximilla, you need to get a larger perspective on life.”

Lauren carried her heightened interest into her academic work, where her achievements were recognized with the John W. Withers Memorial Award and a Presidential Scholar commendation from NYU. In 2010, she was awarded Chicago’s Association for Women Journalists Award for outstanding young female journalist. She has been a Fulbright Fellow, an Overseas Press Club Fellow, and a U.N. Foundation Fellow. Lauren urged the girls to take advantage of fellowships as a way to get started and explore an interest.

As an advocate for women who go unheard, Lauren is the co-founder of Foreign Policy Interrupted, an organization aimed at increasing female voices commenting on foreign policy in op-ed pages and on television. Her multimedia work has been published by CNN, TIME, NBC News, the Wall Street Journal, the Daily Beast, Foreign Policy, the New York Times, Salon, Global Post, Christian Science Monitor, Rolling Stone Middle East, Marie Claire, and Ms. Magazine., among others. She has also been a regular columnist for Foreign Policy Magazine.

It is clear Lauren Bohn is just getting started. After her stop in the US, she was headed back to Istanbul and the stories she is dedicated to telling. But she hopes to eventually branch out beyond the Middle East, saying, “I’d love to go everywhere.”

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