It certainly felt real her first day on the job. Even if she’s worked in the West Wing before, Psaki says, her first White House briefing was altogether different.
“You just think of the enormous weight of the opportunity, but also the responsibility,” she says. “I remember thinking I can mess up other days, but today I really don’t want to mess up.”
Standing behind the lectern, Psaki reads the room and cycles through each reporter’s questions, including those that come from a different ideological background. While responding, she tries to remember that the reporters in the room aren’t the only ones listening. Whether watching live or after the fact, the entire American public may scrutinize what she says.
Sometimes she thinks over questions later in the day. Sometimes she wishes she answered them differently. That’s part of the job.
Yet the high stakes and the high scrutiny are also highly rewarding. Psaki still sometimes marvels at the chance to walk through the White House halls or chit-chat with the president on Air Force One. At times during the Obama administration, she was too focused on work to enjoy that surreal feeling. She’s trying to pay more attention this time around and enjoy her short moment in history while she’s still in it.
That can involve occasional catch-ups with Florida Rep. Stephanie Murphy ’00, a former sorority sister, or explaining to her 5-year-old niece that while she can see “Aunt Jen” on TV, Aunt Jen can’t see her.
Interactions like those help give her peace as she performs one of the world’s most stressful jobs and raises two young children. Her best friends — all from William & Mary — also help. Even at work, she keeps reminders of where she met them, and where she got her start, close by. A picture of the Wren Building hangs on her office wall.
Jiang’s workdays in her home office start with a similar memento: a William & Mary Christmas ornament sitting on her desk. Like Psaki, she followed a similarly unlikely journey to Williamsburg.
Moving from China to America at the age of 2, Jiang grew up in small-town Buckhannon, West Virginia, which nurtured her affection for the outdoors. By her senior year of high school, she’d applied to almost 20 colleges, but only William & Mary felt like what she wanted in a home.
“When I stepped foot on campus, I felt like this is what college is supposed to be,” she says. “It’s sort of a magical place.”
The university met her family’s financial needs and provided scholarships for her to study as a Monroe and William & Mary Scholar. All in all, the decision ended up being easy.
“It is inspiring to see we have that representation...You don’t have to look very far to find us everywhere in Washington.”
Much harder was her decision to enter journalism. Her entire life, Jiang’s father had wanted her to become a doctor. She even started her first year on the pre-med track, majoring in chemistry. But the more time she spent with her pre-med classmates, the more she realized she didn’t share their enthusiasm. She didn’t want a career of going through the motions, and she knew the line of work where that wouldn’t happen.
When she was 13, Jiang won a national competition with Channel One News, a since-closed company that fostered youth media literacy, with alumni from Anderson Cooper to Lisa Ling. Channel One flew her out to Los Angeles for a weeklong media summit. Jiang was amazed.
“For me, it was just mind-boggling that this could be your job because it seemed like so much fun,” she says.
That impression remained true in her time at William & Mary, as she wrote for the Flat Hat and co-starred on an amateur news broadcast with a friend named Luther Lowe ’06 — who 10 years later exited the friend zone and eventually became her husband. Jiang switched her major to philosophy and applied to a graduate program in journalism her junior year.
Then, as now, there was no journalism major at the university. But Jiang avers that her philosophy degree was the best preparation available.
“I actually think the liberal arts education is the best education to have in your pocket as you try to enter journalism,” she says. “For me, the number one quality a journalist possesses is a curiosity for learning, and I think William & Mary really nurtured that.”
After graduating, Jiang traveled to New York for a master’s program in broadcast journalism at Syracuse University. A year later, she started at a local news station in Salisbury, Maryland. From there she moved to Baltimore to New York to Washington, where she covered the 2016 elections as a general assignment reporter.
Her work that year laid a foundation for her to cover former President Donald Trump’s administration, a gig that led to her receiving CBS’ full-time position covering the White House in 2018.