January 2021 | Laura Weidman Powers AB '04

Award-winning social entrepreneur and author of the new book Unstuck Together

By Jenny Tram AB '22

2020 was a year of immense challenge, adaptation, and reevaluation. 

Our diverse membership touches professions and spaces that span every corner of every industry, all of which have changed immensely due to the global pandemic and its subsequent effects. 

We at Harvardwood believe we should begin 2021 by profiling a delightful, standout professional who exemplifies purpose-driven passion -- not merely success -- in all of her endeavors. If nothing else, we hope this read shines light on what is a truly stellar creative career. We couldn’t be prouder to introduce Laura Weidman Powers AB ‘04.

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Powers is an award-winning social entrepreneur, speaker, teacher, coach, consultant, and author. Her journey since Harvard is one to marvel at. 

Her new book, Unstuck Together, is a non-fiction story about how she and her husband packed up their lives -- and their new baby -- and set off to travel across 11 countries and 48 cities in under a year, in order to reconnect with what makes each of them happy. From spending 2 months in Marrakech, to finding time (and childcare) to go on 100 “dates” while traveling, to having a multilingual child that considered home to be “wherever the three of us were… no matter how long we’d remain”, the book is a fascinating read. It speaks to those who are both ambitious and adventurous, those who have obligations and want new opportunities, and those who are looking at uprooting their lives and creating a new normal for their families. So how’d Laura arrive at this juncture?

I was way more interested in extracurriculars than academics while I was at Harvard!” said Powers of her time in undergrad. 

In particular, her passion back then was CityStep, a program in which students at the College volunteered to teach dance at nearby public schools with under-funded arts programs. She had joined the organization during her freshman year, and remained actively involved during the rest of her time in college, even serving as Director during her junior and senior years. Passionate about dance, she spent a great deal of time dancing outside of CityStep as well, performing in several pieces with the Expressions Dance Company most semesters. Powers even considered pursuing her love of travel by studying abroad, but ultimately could not bring herself to leave CityStep. 

When it was time to graduate, most of my classmates were going into consulting and i-banking -- two things that I had no interest in (to be honest, I didn't understand what either was, just that they were supposedly desirable).

Upon graduation, Powers decided to lead CityStep professionally. The program had been at Harvard for 20 years then, but it had never expanded beyond Cambridge. She moved to West Philadelphia and spent a year setting up CityStep at the University of Pennsylvania and in the local public school system; by that spring, she and her team had a sold out performance at the main theater on campus, and Powers even had a set of undergrads lined up to run the program the following year. She then handed CityStep off, and today, the program is in its 15th year at Penn and has expanded even further.

As someone who considered herself to be a "nonprofit person" who is passionate about the arts, Powers also led operations for a public art project in New York City that decorated the city’s yellow cabs with hand-painted art for its 2007 centennial. 

“But I was convinced that I needed more exposure to different methods of thinking and building if I was going to be effective in the public sector,” said Powers. 

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December 2020 | Lori Lakin Hutcherson AB '90

Los Angeles native, film and television writer/producer currently working on Freeform's The Bold Type, and founder/editor-in-chief of the award-winning website Good Black News

By Simi Shah AB '19

In 1990, a few months out of Harvard, Lori Lakin Hutcherson found herself back in her old stomping grounds: Los Angeles. An ardent lover of the arts -- music and television and all things LA -- she took up a job at The Wherehouse, a record store. She recalls, “It was back when everything wasn't just in the iTunes Store or Apple. You actually had to go into a physical store.”

But music wasn’t the only thing at Hutcherson’s fingertips. While working there, Hutcherson doggedly shopped her resume around Hollywood. But her big break came in the form of a friend who couldn’t believe that this young, talented Harvard grad hadn’t nudged her way into the industry yet. Within a week, she landed her first Hollywood job as a “glorified production assistant,” on Fox’s series, True Colors. By the second season, she found her way to the writer’s seat as a writer’s assistant.

From there, a cascade of opportunities followed.

It was the 1990s. The NAACP and media outlets like Variety were doing deep reporting on the lack of diversity in the industry, including at Fox. “There were no Black executives at Fox and barely any in Hollywood in general,” Hutcherson confirms. In an effort to hire more diverse talent, a Senior Vice President at 20th Century Fox that Hutcherson was well acquainted with tapped her for a development role. Six and a half years into reading scripts and overseeing development and production, Hutcherson herself had earned the title of Vice President in the studio’s development department. 

Despite advancing to what she describes as a “dream career” as a high-paid Hollywood executive, there remained a nagging feeling in the back of Hutcherson’s mind as she approached her 30th birthday.

Hutcherson’s first love was always writing. “I started writing because I love telling stories and I always gravitated toward them.” A history and literature major at Harvard, in the midst of taking film classes and the like, she found herself doing television roundup write-ups for The Crimson. Any opportunity she got, she would take, to write about music, television, and the arts. And after nearly seven years at Fox, she decided to bet on herself and find her way back to the writer’s seat. 

She hasn’t looked back. “Since then, it’s been a typical writer’s life. Sometimes you’re on a show, and sometimes you’re not. It’s a roller coaster, but being a television writer is a role I enjoy deeply.”

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November 2020 | Julian Breece AB '03

Writer of Netflix's When They See Us, ABC's upcoming Mason-Dixon & Searchlight's Alvin Ailey biopic

By Carly Hillman AB '15

“Oh, I should re-read that,” Julian Breece AB ’03 whispers to himself as he scans his bookshelf and reads me his favorite titles, as if he were reminding himself to call an old friend to catch up. I’d asked him about his favorite books from college, and the final addition to the list is not a book, but an admission: “I could go on forever.”

His adoration is apt, because those books changed his life. Before he read them, he had a plan: he was going to be an academic. He would graduate from Harvard, get his masters, next his PhD, and then he’d become a professor. There were some questions of course (like whether he’d get a Rhodes Scholarship) but the general route was mapped. Then, he started the thesis writing process. “That was when I realized, ‘Oh, hell no. Academic writing is not for me,’” he remembers.

With the help of a few creative writing classes he’d taken, he started to realize that he didn’t want to just write about the authors he admired—he wanted to do what they did. He switched to writing a creative thesis, and esteemed novelist and essayist Jamaica Kincaid signed on as his advisor.

Breece followed the creative path out of Cambridge all the way to Hollywood. He’s now written for shows like The First, When They See Us, and First Wives Club. Currently, he’s writing a screenplay about Alvin Ailey, which Barry Jenkins is set to direct, and working on a TV show at ABC with Lee Daniels.

Becoming a creative was more of a homecoming than a pivot. Breece grew up acting in his hometown of Washington, DC. He describes himself as a theater kid, which, upon deeper questioning, is a humble depiction. He was an actual working actor who performed at The Kennedy Center and appeared on shows like Teen Summit. Ultimately, he quit acting (“I embraced the fact that I was an introvert”) but continued to chase what had drawn him to acting in the first place. “Acting was a way of communicating,” he says, “and I always had something to say.”

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October 2020 | Ken Williams AB '78

Executive Director and CEO, Entertainment Technology Center at USC

By Woojin Lim AB '22

Kenneth S. Williams AB '78 began our hour-long conversation with a flip-side marketing pitch on why film school students should consider returning to a virtual fall: having a firm grasp of collaborative software solutions and non-in-person digital tools could well-position a job-market candidate entering a world bestrewn with uncertainties such as the COVID-19 resurgence. “The old way of in-person work will soon be replaced by the new normal,” he says. “A lot of companies are not only looking for temporary work-arounds, but they’re trying to find permanent solutions to future-proof themselves.”

As the Executive Director of the Entertainment Technology Center (ETC) at USC, Williams shared his reams of first-hand observational knowledge on the colossal shifts in the film and entertainment industry. His work at the ETC, a collegial post he’s taken up for eight years, stands at the forefront of groundbreaking entertainment technologies. Bringing together major studios and tech companies, Williams has led research, projects, prototypes, and demonstrations in areas of immersive entertainment experiences, cloud-based remote production and post-production, AI, and machine-learning-driven applications for media and entertainment.

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September 2020 | Kelly Goode AB '83

kgoode.jpgVice-President, Current Programming at Warner Bros. Television

By Carly Hillman AB '15

Kelly Goode AB '83 was a teenager when she learned a secret about working in entertainment: “Hollywood work is not glamorous.” That realization came while she was fetching coffees as a Production Assistant for her father, who had transitioned from a career in education to directing commercials and public service spots. 

“I watched him being a leader, but also being incredibly resourceful because he was working on lower-budget projects,” she recalls. “They weren’t huge productions.” 

Now, Goode does work on huge productions—but that appreciation for hard work and resourcefulness has stayed with her. As Vice President of Current Programming at Warner Bros. Television, she acts as the liaison between the producers of a show and its network or streaming service. She hears season pitches, sees story areas, reads scripts, and, when a show is in production, looks at the dailies and rough cuts. “You’re in the trenches with everybody as a partner,” she shares with me.

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August 2020 | Richard Cusick AB '92

rich-ces.jpgSVP and GM, TV and Digital Media at MarketCast

By Simi Shah AB '19

Richard Cusick AB '92 is in the business of media. Over the course of his illustrious career spent with organizations like Yahoo, IAC, and MarketCast, he has dedicated years to building, shaping, and re-inventing companies. 

But he wasn’t always in this business. Cusick's foray into media and technology began with a familiar crisis of faith in the wake of September 11, 2001. A banker for Lehman Brothers, Cusick worked a stone’s throw from the World Trade Center at the time of the attacks. As the world fell apart, Cusick fell back on an open question in his life: “doing what you feel like you should do versus what your gut tells you.” He decided to take the plunge.

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July 2020 | Suzanne Nossel AB '91, JD '96

CEO of PEN America, Author of Dare to Speak

By Carly Hillman AB '15

snossel.jpgIt was towards the end of my phone interview with Suzanne Nossel AB '91, JD '96 when I started to laugh at one of my own questions. I had jotted it down before we spoke, a standard interview line: “Who have you modeled your career after?” But now, after hearing in detail about the stepping-stones of her wide-ranging career, it was clear the question did not apply. Nossel’s path was unique, and she mapped it herself. 

Here’s a summary of the route: She’s worked as a mediator of political violence in South Africa’s townships, a law clerk on the DC circuit, a consultant at McKinsey, Deputy to Richard Holbrooke while he was UN Ambassador, a Vice President at Bertelsmann, an Executive at Dow Jones, the COO of Human Rights Watch, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations at the State Department, the Executive Director of Amnesty International, and finally, now, as the CEO of PEN America and author of the upcoming book Dare to Speak. Rather than climbing the proverbial career ladder, Suzanne Nossel has been scaling a career mountain.

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June 2020 | Matthew Aucoin AB '12

Composer, Conductor, Pianist, & Writeraucoin.jpg

By Simi Shah AB '19

Matthew Aucoin AB '12 has long been regarded a wunderkind in the world of classical music and opera. He has donned many hats as conductor, pianist, and writer, but first and foremost comes his role as composer.

The overture in the opera of Aucoin’s life sings to the tune of Bolivian street musicians and Beethoven’s 9th symphony. A precocious 9-year-old, he recalls feeling “dumbstruck,” upon hearing the latter for the first time. Within two years, he had composed symphonies, chamber works, and an entire opera based on a children’s book.

The child of a journalist, technical writer, and all-around bibliophiles, Aucoin’s passion for music was welcomed and celebrated in his youth. By the time middle and high school came around, Aucoin dedicated every waking moment to music.

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May 2020 | Megan Goldstein AB '05

By D. Dona Le

goldstein.jpgBefore college, Eagle Rock native Megan Goldstein AB ‘05 “was determined to go to New York City. I really wanted to go to Columbia, and if Columbia didn’t work out, I was going to New York University. Then when I got into Harvard, I thought, ‘Whoa. Yeah. Okay.’”

Today, Goldstein still lives in Northeast Los Angeles and is currently Vice President of Synch Licensing at BMG, a position that perfectly marries her training as a musician and her love of film and television.

“I am a musician and I’ve always felt like a musician, but it's not that I wanted to be a clarinetist in a symphony,” Goldstein says. “I just always thought of myself as a musician. I made music every day and practiced every day—that was the fabric of my life.”

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April 2020 | Silver Linings Playbook: The Harvardwood Edition

Ordinarily, we feature an alum profile in this section of the monthly Highlights, but this month, we're using this section to bring you some messages of solidarity from Harvardwood leaders and members!

mra.jpgI hope you are staying safe, healthy, and hunkered down during this surreal time! My family and I are looking for the silver linings each day—being able to eat every meal together, enjoying lots of family read-alouds and movie nights on the couch, and getting really good at riding bicycles (while practicing proper social distancing). Wishing everyone deeper connection to and gratitude for one another as we move through this act of human solidarity!

- Mia Riverton Alpert, Co-Founder

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