After congratulating Wesleyan’s ninety-three 2014 graduates and their families, Commencement speaker Mary McDonough called on the young women wearing regal caps and gowns to reflect upon their accomplishments over the last four years. “On your transition from here, you will carry these accomplishments forward in everything you do; from casual conversations to job interviews and from resumés to career applications. You will forever be a Purple Knight. No one can ever take that away.
McDonough said that as she was gathering thoughts in preparation for her speech, she reflected on all the graduation ceremonies she has attended and heard that the event was “not an ending, but a beginning.” To the women gathered in Porter Auditorium she argued that commencement is in fact, “an ending, a finale, a curtain coming down, a culmination, a completion.” A finish line, she said, that is just one in a long line of many. “I encourage you to stop the clock right now and take in all that is here in this ending, this final moment. Look at who is around you, really feel how you feel, and think about what matters to you at this moment… How are you leaving here? What are you taking away? Whatever the path was for you, embrace it now without judgment… Celebrate with gratitude.”
As she spoke about transitions, McDonough described the touching, funny, and often heartbreaking story of her overnight transformation from a normal kid in a working class Irish Catholic family to a Hollywood child star. From 1972 – 1982, she portrayed Erin, the sensitive middle daughter on the hit television series The Waltons. Continuing her acting career into adulthood, McDonough appeared in numerous series including ER, Picket Fences, Will and Grace, Boston Legal, and The New Adventures of Old Christine, among others. She has also appeared as a special correspondent for Entertainment Tonight, hosted programs for The Travel Channel and The Family Channel, and published a book entitled Lessons from the Mountain, What I Learned from Erin Walton.
Perhaps the result of the many years she spent working in and successfully navigating her place in a difficult and highly visible industry, it seemed only natural for McDonough to reach out to others. Thus, her work as a life coach began. She works one-on-one with individuals helping them to deal with and overcome the fear of anxiety associated with career transition, life balance, communication, and health. She is also a seasoned public speaker for businesses and organizations of all sizes, and an outspoken activist who has spent fifteen years lobbying Congress on behalf of women’s health.
“I have transitioned in my career and life many times. We all reinvent ourselves throughout life. There are planned and unplanned transitions. Some you see coming and some just land in your lap as complete surprises. It’s how you choose to look at and deal with them that makes all the difference... Trust who you are as a woman. Own being female. Find the thing that excites you and gives you energy, then follow it… You get to decide how you will handle your life’s transitions. What will you choose your legacy to be?”