Alumna Q&A: Sharon Kelly McBride (F’98)

Why did you decide to come to SFS?

I took a photography class in high school and one assignment was to make a collage from stacks of old magazines in the classroom. I came across a black and white advertisement recruiting people for the U.S. Foreign Service that basically said, “Come see the world and serve your county.”  It sounded great to me.  So when I heard there was a school actually named the School of Foreign Service, I thought: sign me up.  Then when I came to campus on a beautiful spring day for a visit I was sold.

In the end, I decided against taking the Foreign Service exam. Instead, I went to law school and worked in politics for a while before ending up in international human rights advocacy.


Did you have any mentors or advisors at SFS that made a big impact on you?

I was fortunate to study with some great professors from across the university. An adjunct professor, Regan Ralph, taught a seminar on women’s international human rights that was my introduction to the field I’m now working in.  Professors Joseph Sitterson, Jason Rosenblatt and Wayne Knowles in the English department all influenced the way I read.  And Professor Patrick Laude stuck with me over the semesters despite my interest in French exceeding my abilities.


Which historical figure do you most identify with?

Like a lot of people, I’m sure, I caught some of Ken Burns’s latest documentary, The Roosevelts, on television recently and was reminded of just how awesome Eleanor Roosevelt was.  I don’t know that I identify with her as much as I admire her.  I’m fortunate to be able to work in human rights, a field she in many ways invented.  At a time when there’s so much disappointment around our current political situation in the country, I think it’s important to remember that she wasn’t just an idealist – she was a politician.


What is your favorite memory of your time at SFS?

I remember a lot more about the Tombs than I do about Map of the Modern World.  Sitting with friends on Healy lawn. Homecoming.


Describe your current role and what makes you most proud about that.

I work in advocacy at Human Rights First.  We’re an organization that challenges the United States to live up to its ideals on human rights.  In practice that means working to persuade American lawmakers to protect refugees, adopt national security policies that don’t violate people’s human rights, and keep human rights at the center of bilateral relationships with other countries. It is satisfying to be able to work toward realizing actual change in the world.


How did SFS prepare you for your current role/career?

SFS allowed me to take an interest in international affairs and build some practical knowledge on that foundation of interest.  But more important than any specific set of information, SFS opened my eyes to the existence of a larger community of people who are passionately engaged with the world.


What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?

Professionally, I’m pleased that I’ve been able to contribute some to pushing back on the post-9/11 abuses in our country’s national security policy.  As I write this, I’m with Human Rights First at a convening of interrogators and intelligence professionals who are all committed to getting out the message that torture is not only wrong, it can’t be counted on to generate accurate information.

Physically, I’ve swam across the Chesapeake Bay — twice.


Have you travelled extensively?  For work or for pleasure?  What is your favorite place?

Most of my recent travel for work has been between New York City and Washington, DC.  I still have fond memories of France where I spent my junior year.  I’m looking forward to visiting my sister, Claire (another Georgetown grad) where she lives in Dakar, Senegal as soon as my two little sons are old enough to go.


What advice do you have for current SFS students?

Having direction and being open to changing it are probably of equal importance.   While it’s important to pay your dues and no one’s career starts at the top, it’s probably a bad idea to do something you absolutely hate for the “experience” of it.