Memorial for Medill Prof. Cecilia Vaisman highlights her legacy, passion for underprivileged


Sophie Mann/Daily Senior Staffer

Gary Marx, Vaisman’s husband and a reporter at the Chicago Tribune, tells stories about his late wife’s knack for storytelling. Marx was one of many to speak about the journalist and educator in the packed McCormick Foundation Center Forum on Monday evening.

David Fishman, Reporter

Friends and colleagues of the late journalist and Medill Prof. Cecilia Vaisman gathered Monday in the McCormick Foundation Center to celebrate her legacy of storytelling and mentorship.

More than 150 people convened to remember Vaisman, who died last year at 54 after a long battle with breast cancer. The memorial, organized by Medill Prof. Mei-Ling Hopgood, included speeches and examples of Vaisman’s most notable work.

“Throughout her career, Ceci could somehow find that small detail, that unique observation that captured a broader truth,” said Gary Marx, Vaisman’s husband and a Chicago Tribune reporter. “Journalism — longform audio narrative — was only another medium for expressing her artistry. But this one gave voice to others and exposed truths to a wider world.”

Marx said Vaisman continued a legacy of first-class teaching and mentorship at her “final home,” the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications. Vaisman started teaching multimedia courses at Northwestern in 2010, where she also worked to launch the first journalism residency in Argentina.

Former students remembered Vaisman for her selflessness and dedication to others.

“She definitely had very high expectations, and even when you didn’t quite believe in yourself she would,” Katherine Nagasawa (Medill ’15), a former student of Vaisman’s, told The Daily. “Encouragement and intensity are two words I’d use to describe her. She would spend a lot of time giving feedback, writing emails or meeting with you one-on-one.”

After Vaisman’s death in September, Nagasawa and some of her peers created a soundscape capturing her essence in audio for the memorial. Nagasawa said she credits Vaisman for her career path and current job at WBEZ in Chicago.

VAISMAN2_SophieMannSophie Mann/Daily Senior Staffer

Born in Buenos Aires and raised in New Jersey, Vaisman earned a degree in Latin American studies from Barnard College. After graduating, she joined National Public Radio in Washington and four years later co-founded Homelands Productions, a nonprofit journalism cooperative. Vaisman produced pieces on everything from women’s rights in India to Brazilian food issues.

“She had that Argentine elegance and also that equal mixture of Jersey swag,” said Medill Prof. Douglas Foster. “And then the kind of controlled fury that lies in the heart of any great journalist.”

Vaisman’s work, featured on WBEZ’s “This American Life” and NPR’s “All Things Considered,” received numerous accolades, including two Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards and an Armstrong Award. One of her projects, “Vanishing Homelands,” which chronicles loss of land across Latin America and the Caribbean, was featured at the memorial.

“She dedicated her time and made you feel like you were the only person who had ever written or done something on radio that mattered,” said Maria Hinojosa, anchor and executive producer of Latino USA. “It was because of that light and humility that Cecilia was in fact a great journalist and got people to say things that they wouldn’t say otherwise.”

At the memorial, Hinojosa also announced the Cecilia Vaisman internship, which will include a $1,500 stipend for students to work at Futuro Media Group over the summer.

Chicago Tribune reporter David Jackson said he remembers Vaisman for her authentic reporting and dedication to the underprivileged.

“In the end, the only thing that gives value and meaning to our lives is the good we’ve done for others,” Jackson said. “The times we’ve reached inside our own rib cage to pull out the lamp glowing there and give every bit of its warmth and light to someone else.”

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