Bringing Words to Life


A Commencement speech inspires a year of student life programming


At Commencement last spring, Emmy–award-winning actress Ann Dowd ’74 shared her “fundamental principles” for living a life with meaning, in a speech that managed to affectionately instruct as well as inspire (you can read it at The talk so impressed Director of Student Life Curriculum Kate Garrity that she has made it the organizing principle for this year’s student life programming, drawing on three of Dowd’s key themes—Be Present, Be Grateful, and Be Heard.

Over the course of the year—at class assemblies, advisory discussions, parent workshops, and other school gatherings—the school community will hear keynote speakers and discuss issues focused around these topics. Typically, Garrity explains, the themes for each semester are developed by the Dean’s Office based on issues and trends that students may be confronting. But Dowd’s speech seemed to connect a number of pressing concerns and make them immediately relevant. “What Ann was saying could not have lined up better with things that we want our kids to hear,” Garrity says. That the themes were presented so memorably by such an engaging alum made the choice seem all the more appropriate.

Garrity explains how Dowd’s three themes connect to important messages about student life. “We really want the kids to learn to be present—to stay in the moment, to not escape with cell phones, or substances, or social media,” she says. “And by being present, hopefully they’ll learn to be grateful for the moments they have. And then, once they realize what they have and what’s going on in the moment, we want to hear their ideas about how to move forward and what they are passionate about.”

If all that seems too difficult, then students can find encouragement in the words of Dowd. “You know what you have in abundance? You have guts,” she told the assembled school community. “That comes with youth, by the way. You have guts and you have a fierce, fierce spirit of ‘I can’ and ‘I will.’ Don’t you? You have that, don’t you, my loves? You know
you can do it.”