Alum in the Spotlight: Porscha Burke
Class Year: 1996
Are you a Delta or a Phi? Phi!
College: University of Virginia ’00
Graduate School: Goucher College ’17
- Where do you work and what is your current position?
I work at Random House, where I am now Publishing Manager, reporting to the group’s President and Publisher and to the Executive Vice President, Director of Marketing.
- How did you get involved in your current industry?
Prayer! I wanted to merge my love of grammar and writing with my purpose-led drive to help others and my decades of experience as an administrative assistant. And, after applying to Random House (exclusively and daily
) for a few months, the group’s president hired me as her executive assistant. I’ve been working here for nearly 14 years.
- What do you enjoy doing outside of work (for fun, volunteering, etc.)?
Much like I did at Masters, I enjoy introspective and hilarious conversations with my homegirls (and homeboys, now), baking, sunbathing, reading, writing and grooving to classic hip-hop records.
- What/who inspires you?
These days, I’m particularly inspired by writers like Kiese Laymon and Roxane Gay, who are adding to conversations about intersectionality, a discussion about weight and overeating in black communities. Reading HUNGER was one of the most profound literary experiences in my life. And Kiese’s work constantly pushes difficult conversations about being black in predominantly white spaces to the forefront of art and dialogue. And I’m inspired by faith leaders like Amy Butler and Richard Rohr, who speak about community, non-dualism, and love in the most profound and beautiful ways. What a time to be alive.
- What is an accomplishment you are most proud of?
I am most proud of curating the book RAINBOW IN THE CLOUD, a collection of quotes from the published works of Maya Angelou. I had the idea for the book in 2009, two years after first speaking with Dr. Angelou (answering her phone call) and one year before her longtime editor invited me to edit her cookbook, GREAT FOOD, ALL DAY LONG. The idea wasn’t right at the time, but I did the work anyway, reading all her poetry and autobiographies, and filing my favorite quotes away on an Excel spreadsheet. When Dr. Angelou passed away in May 2014 (by which time I’d become her editor), we received requests for a quotes collection. I had 300 quotes ready to be shared with and edited by her estate. We published the book in October 2014.
- What activities were you involved in at Masters?
At Masters, I was in Glee Club, Dobbs 16 (or Jazz 8, or 10, or 12, as it was over the years), and by senior year, president of Onyx, Positive Rhythm, and Urban Connection. I managed softball, basketball, and field hockey, and played JV volleyball.
- How did your Masters experience impact the trajectory of your career?
There aren’t enough words to express the importance of Masters in my life. I’ve often said choosing to go to that particular all-girls boarding school was the single best decision I’ve ever made. Masters gave me the space (literally and figuratively) to explore ALL of my interests—musical, spiritual, social, academic—and transformed me from a follower into a leader. The incredible faculty (h/t Dr. Theeman, Mr. Burke, Dr. Whitehead, and Peggy Stern) nourished my passion for learning, and lessons they taught (a love of Shakespeare, jazz music, madrigal chants, ancient Roman history) have remained fixtures of my life to this day. The girls who attended Masters with me—especially those I was lucky enough to live with over those four years—taught me about integrity, style, mischief, sisterhood and solidarity, and authenticity (before that was a buzzword). Many of us formed friendships based on who we were at our core—as quirky or complex as that was—and hence we still connect meaningfully to this day. And the community itself has opened doors and given me a polish that surely enabled me to be hired in my earliest jobs—the foundation for what I do now.
- Who was your most influential teacher at Masters? How and why?
I will forever owe a tremendous debt to Dr. Theeman, who introduced me to the Bulgarian Women’s Choir and, having learned of my interest in playing the piano, offered me a scholarship to study with jazz legend Peggy Stern (then our Glee Club pianist and director of Jazz 12). Peggy and Dr. Theeman unlocked an understanding of a pivotal American art that informed my understanding of contemporary music (especially hip-hop) and became the soundtrack to the rest of my life—not to mention the subject of my graduate thesis. Mr. Burke nurtured my inner nerd—he treated me like I was really smart and pushed me to believe it, too. Mr. Burke possessed an outstanding ability to make history come alive and have present-day relevance. And, as a dorm parent, he fed us and let us watch X Files
(future career choice for one of us!) and college basketball (always tying it back to our own college choices) every Friday night. And Dr. Whitehead taught me how to really write
. She directed my love of literature as both a reader and a content creator. Her impact on me vibrates in each sentence I write (or diagram).
- What is your favorite Masters memory?
Although there are many (afternoons with Peggy in Thayer Hall, Friday nights at the Burkes’ apartment, taking the AP English exam, sighing out loud at the books on the test to the laughs of my classmates rank highly), the absolute best is the winter of 1993 – 1994, where we had snow days every week and all of us girls on third-floor Strong were pretty close. The pranks we played on each other were legendary and full of love. The mischief we caused just having fun together still makes me laugh out loud. Our “communal closet” (everyone’s clothes were available to wear as long as they fit!) is missed to this day. And we all pushed each other to be our best selves in every possible way.
- Do you have any advice for the class of 2018?
Enjoy every single second of your time there. Write down as much of it as you can—don’t just rely on the photos. While sitting outside. Among your homies. You’ll find yourself returning to those memories often—especially when you need to brighten your day. And those friendships can truly, truly last a lifetime.