"Clearly, the emphasis on writing at St. Stephen's and St. Agnes School played a huge role in my life. It gave me a great advantage in both college and after, and I’ve been working on it ever since,” said Eileen Sullivan '95 about her alma mater’s influence on her life and career. Eileen is currently a reporter with the New York Times. Before that she worked as a counterterrorism reporter for the Associated Press for nine years, covering everything from terror plots in the United States to airport security measures designed to prevent terrorism in the commercial aviation sector.
Ms. Sullivan, along with three fellow reporters from the Associated Press, was named winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. Their months-long series outlining the NYPD’s surveillance of minority and particularly Muslim neighborhoods since the 9/11 terror attacks also earned them the 2012 Goldsmith Prize for investigative reporting and the 2012 Tobenkin Award from Columbia University.
While a student at SSSAS, Ms. Sullivan demonstrated a wide range of interests and talents. Among her many involvements, she actively participated in the French Club and Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD); was elected to the Honor Council in both her junior and senior years; played varsity lacrosse, track, and basketball; and served as co-captain of the varsity field hockey team. Ms. Sullivan graduated from Villanova University with a degree in English.
Q. You clearly have a passion for learning. How did your SSSAS teachers help develop your interests?
A. I think all of my teachers influenced me at some point along the way. But I remember doing an independent study with my English teacher, Ms. Fawcett, during my senior year. We read Madame Bovaryand some Virginia Woolf and had long discussions about the books. It really helped shape not only how I read literature, but also how to see its application in real life. And it made me realize I wanted to major in English when I was at Villanova.
Q. When/why did you decide on journalism as your career?
A. I knew for a while that I wanted to go into journalism, at least since high school. In college, I knew I wanted to be on the print side. I interned at a magazine in Philadelphia while I was at Villanova, and I realized I wanted to work at a daily newspaper. My first job after college was at a local newspaper in South Jersey [the Courier-Post in Cherry Hill], and that’s where I fell in love with the profession.
Q. What do you enjoy most about your profession?
A. I didn’t know it when I started out, but being a reporter gives me the opportunity to learn something new every day. There’s always a good story out there that I don’t know about, and I get to go find it. And when I do, I always want to know more.
Q. You won a Pulitzer Prize for your investigative reporting. What does this achievement mean to you?
The Pulitzer is the most prestigious award you can win in journalism, and it is a huge honor. However, winning the Pulitzer has never been something that I set out to do. My contribution to this series is what I do every day as I look for good stories and report on them. This is what I’ll continue to do in the post-Pulitzer years as well.
Q. Do you have any advice for students interested in pursuing a journalism career?
A. Absolutely pursue it. The world needs great journalists to hold the powerful accountable. Take as many different courses in college as possible. If you’re like me, you’ll end up covering everything, so a little bit of background goes a long way.
Q. How have your SSSAS relationships played a role throughout your life?
A. My friends from SSSAS are still my closest. We have been in each other’s weddings, we’re godmothers to each other’s children. We’ve seen each other through life’s highs and lows, and life would not be the same without them. It really does seem like we’re still the same girls we were in sixth grade (hopefully better looking and better dressed!), but otherwise the same. And I just love seeing my friends’ personalities and features in their children.