Actress Ann Dowd tells Williston graduates to live life with ‘an open heart’

  • Magnolia Armstrong, center, of Northampton sniffs her graduation rose as she waits in the processional line of the Williston Northampton School's 178th commencement on Saturday, May 25, 2019, in Easthampton. Joining her are, from left, Nicholas Barber, Anushka Bagde and James Arcoleo. STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Anushka Bagde, center, of Saudi Arabia and Magnolia Armstrong of Northampton hold their graduation roses as they wait in the processional line of the Williston Northampton School's 178th commencement on Saturday, May 25, 2019, in Easthampton. Joining them, at left, is Nicholas Barber of Westfield. STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Williston Northampton School Head of School Robert Hill III reads from the school's newspaper during his welcome remarks to the prep school's 178th commencement on Saturday, May 25, 2019, in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Williston Northampton School graduate Eleanor Wolfe, left, of Northampton gets a hug from 1974 Williston alumna Ann Dowd during commencement exercises in Easthampton on Saturday, May 25, 2019. Wolfe was successful in her efforts to have the Emmy Award-winning actress be the commencement speaker. STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Ann Dowd, an Emmy Award-winning actress and a 1974 alumna of the Williston Northampton School, addresses the school's 178th commencement on Saturday, May 25, 2019, in Easthampton. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Williston Northampton School graduate Eleanor Wolfe, left, of Northampton gets a hug from 1974 Williston alumna Ann Dowd during the school's 178th commencement exercises in Easthampton on Saturday, May 25, 2019. Wolfe had urged Head of School Robert Hill III, right, to ask the Emmy Award-winning actress to be the class's commencement speaker. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • New inductees into the Cum Laude Society, Erin Daley, left, of West Springfield, Madeleine Elsea of Florence and Claire Harrison of Conway, applaud during the Williston Northampton School's 178th commencement on Saturday, May 25, 2019, in Easthampton. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Williston Northampton School senior class speaker Simon Kim of Seoul, Korea, offers thoughts about love and hate and saying goodbye during his address to the prep school's 178th commencement on Saturday, May 25, 2019, in Easthampton. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Williston Northampton School valedictorian Robert Arthur Hill, right, shakes hands with Board of Trustees Chairman John Hazen White Jr. after receiving his diploma from his father, Head of School Robert W. Hill III, in background, at the school's 178th commencement on Saturday, May 25, 2019, in Easthampton. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Williston Northampton School senior class speaker Simon Kim of Seoul, Korea, offers thoughts about love and hate and saying goodbye during his address to the prep school's 178th commencement on Saturday, May 25, 2019, in Easthampton. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Williston Northampton School graduate Julia Cavanaugh of Florence hugs her father, Dan Cavanaugh, a staff member at the school, after he presented her with her diploma during the school's 178th commencement on Saturday, May 25, 2019, in Easthampton. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

For the Gazette
Published: 5/26/2019 12:10:46 AM

EASTHAMPTON — Big, glowing smiles mixed with tears of joy and sadness as the 112 members of Williston Northampton School’s class of 2019 celebrated their graduation on Saturday morning.

The school's 178th commencement took place on the main green, where parents. friends and loved ones gathered under a giant white tent. Cheers and applause rose from the crowd as the faculty and graduates were led in the music of bagpipes.

Actor Ann Dowd, a member of Williston's class of '74, and winner of a Supporting Actress Emmy in 2017 for her role as the ruthless Aunt Lydia in “The Handmaid's Tale” was the featured speaker.

Dowd, a native of Holyoke, has had a successful and varied 30-year career acting in films, on television, and on stage.

In her remarks, she talked about what she called “fundamental principles that have stood the test of time and hold true across generations.”  She stressed the value of living life with an open heart, of being present in the moment, of showing kindness and humility, and of being grateful for every day be it good or bad.

Dowd spoke of her years before entering Williston saying that she often skipped class, disliked authority and was rude to adults. Arriving at Williston Northampton School, however, she was impressed by the small class sizes, smart people, and the ways in which students were encouraged to have their own ideas and opinions.

“When I set foot on this campus I said, ‘this is it, this where my life begins,’” she said. “It had not occurred to me that you could choose what you love as a course of study.”  

It was at Williston where Dowd said she fell in love with acting and the theater, saying that she felt she had been given a “ticket to heaven.”

Still, Dowd didn't think of acting as a career path for herself, having originally planned to be a surgeon. She said she studied hard and excelled in her pre-med college courses in college, but found that they did not make her happy.

"Just because you commit to something at 18 years old, doesn't mean that it is your path," she said, telling students to always follow their "inner guidance system."

She decided to take a leap of faith into acting.

“Somewhere in me I had the goods, I had what I needed,” she said. “What you have my loves, is enough.”

Dowd told the graduates that we all come into this world with gifts that we are meant to use.

“Your job is to find your love story, and by love story I mean your love for the work that you do,” she said.

She also instructed the graduates to pay attention to their manners and the way they speak, as these things are important and make a difference.

“Our country has lost its way, the world has lost its way,” she said. “Don't turn a blind eye to this, stay alert and aware and choose what is positive, and then fight for it in every way possible.”

Dowd ended her speech with the poem "Wild Geese" by Mary Oliver.

“I thought the speaker was great!” graduate Kira Bixby, of Pelham; said, “I love how Williston keeps it in the family, and as someone interested in film, it was a thrill to see Ms. Dowd here today.”

Bixby said she plans to study film studies at Emerson College in Boston.

Jennifer Parsons; of Easthampton, said she was happy to see her nephew Caleb Stern graduate, following in the footsteps of his older sister, Maddy, who graduated from Williston five years ago.

“This couldn't be better. It is a beautiful weekend and we are so proud of Caleb,” she said. “We are very proud, really excited for the new adventures that he will be having."

Jack and Heidi Purcell of Illinois said their son Jack Purcell came to Williston to play hockey but he blossomed both academically and personally while at the school.

“His entire experience was fantastic here from day one,” Jack Purcell said. "He made friends from all over the country and is going to Ecuador this summer to visit his roommates family.”

This was the third Williston commencement for Igbuan Okaisabor of Nigeria, whose daughter Zoe Okaisabor is the last of his three daughters to graduate from Williston.

“I am grateful for my children and to Williston for giving them the great education that they have received here,” he said. "I also think that my family has given something to this community by bringing our Nigerian culture here, so it has been mutually beneficial."

Zoe Okaisabor will be attending Pennsylvania State University to study education and public policy.

Chosen by the class of 2019 to be this year's commencement speaker, Seungwoo Kim, of Korea, spoke of his love hate relationship with Williston.

Kim had contemplated leaving after his first day of classes, but said he was grateful to have stuck it out and that he came to love the school.

"We cannot leave you Williston because you have become part of our story and we of yours," Kim said.

 

 

 


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