Sarah S. Matthews, a 1999 Portsmouth Abbey graduate who serves as the deputy general counsel for the non-profit news outlet ProPublica, will become the first alumna to deliver the School’s Commencement Address to graduates Sunday, May 28 at 11 a.m.
As deputy general counsel for an organization dedicated to investigative journalism in the public interest, Matthews provides day-to-day legal support for all its activities. This includes counseling on newsgathering and First Amendment issues, public records and court access, libel law and intellectual property, privacy, labor and employment, and contracts. She vets news articles and content before publication, litigates cases to secure access to public records and proceedings, and defends the organization against subpoenas and legal threats. When joining ProPublica in 2021, Matthews commented that she was delighted to serve people whose work to expose “abuses of power through investigative journalism is more important than ever.”
In a message shared with members of the Portsmouth Abbey community, Head of School Matthew Walter stated “We are thrilled to welcome Sarah back to campus in May. Her career has been devoted to defending free speech, freedom of the press and investigative journalism in support of the public good. Both her perspective as a graduate and her experiences leading to her current role as deputy general counsel for ProPublica will be of interest to our students.”
Before joining ProPublica, Matthews served as a senior staff attorney at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, where she litigated cases involving access to public records and proceedings, fought subpoenas, and filed amicus briefs on First Amendment issues. She also led a pre-publication review practice for investigative journalists and supervised the organization’s hotline for journalists. Earlier in her career, Matthews was associate principal counsel at The Walt Disney Company and a litigation associate at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, LLP, where she focused on First Amendment and media law cases. Before joining Gibson Dunn, she clerked for U.S. District Judge Renée Marie Bumb for the District of New Jersey. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Brown University, where she was a contributing writer to the Brown Daily Herald and a member of the varsity equestrian team. Matthews later earned her J.D. from New York University School of Law.
Portsmouth Abbey School embraced coeducation for boarding and day students in 1991. This year, 44 of the 88 students receiving diplomas are female. The Class of 2023 hails from 16 states and 11 nations. Twenty-four students are Rhode Island residents.