Shonda Rhimes ’91, ‘Scandal’ producer, to address graduates
If she had been asked to speak at Commencement a few years ago, Shonda Rhimes ’91 said, she would have declined, not believing she had enough to say. When College President Phil Hanlon flew to Los Angeles to meet with her and then called a week later to ask her to address the Class of 2014, she said, time and perspective gave her the confidence to accept.
“The difference between a couple of years ago and now,” Rhimes said in an interview Monday, “is that I have perspective on where I’ve been and what I am doing.”
The College announced yesterday that Rhimes will deliver the Commencement address this June from behind the Lone Pine. Rhimes, a Golden Globe winner and three-time Emmy nominee, will be the 11th woman to address a graduating class since the start of the 20th century.
She is the creator, head writer and executive producer of the television shows “Scandal,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Private Practice.” In 2004, she formed her own production company, Shondaland, for which she oversees around 550 actors, writers, crew members and producers.
The last time she visited the College, Rhimes said, she and her sister were on their way to a wedding in Vermont. They decided to make a quick stop — for nostalgia’s sake.
It was her first time back at Dartmouth since graduating, and driving through town, Rhimes said, she noticed that a Gap had moved into a Main Street storefront. For some reason, she said, the idea of a chain store in Hanover made her feel apprehensive about other ways the College could have changed. She and her sister turned back toward the interstate.
Twenty-three years after Rhimes’s own commencement, hesitation has transformed into excitement, she said.
Back in 1991, leaving the College was a shock, Rhimes said, as it forced her leave what had been a comfortable place, where she majored in English and film studies and directed the Black Underground Theater Association.
When Hanlon extended the offer, she said, she was shocked.
“I was speechless because I often feel the same way I did when I was 20 years old -— that I can’t possibly be the grown up in the room,” she said. “But apparently I am.”
During a film off-campus program in Los Angeles this winter, a group of students met with Rhimes over dinner.
Over Italian cuisine, said film professor and program coordinator Mark Williams, Rhimes spoke about her love of Dartmouth, her career and the process of writing for television. A question-and-answer session followed over dessert.
Hannah O’Flynn ’15, a program participant, said that Rhimes was frank, funny and personable, taking time to meet each student personally.
“We all left the dinner wanting to be her best friend,” O’Flynn said, adding that she and her classmates were ecstatic about Rhimes’s selection.
Rhimes said she found the students she met that night to be more mature than she was at their age. The film studies department, she added, has grown exponentially since her time at the College.
“The College has done a good job of crossing the hurdle from what happens in Hanover to what happens in Hollywood,” Rhimes said.Fifteen students interviewed about Rhimes’s selection reacted positively to the announcement, with some noting that Rhimes brings much-needed diversity to the College’s roster of speakers.
Jalil Bishop ’14 said that Rhimes’s voice and perspective as a black female speaker differs from the status quo, enabling her to share an experience he believes is not often heard.
Rhimes was a good selection, student body president Adrian Ferrari ’14 said, because her expertise is different from the past two speakers, who both worked in education.
“People are excited for someone who is going to be lighthearted, satirical and funny,” Ferrari said.
Rhimes was also named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine and has served as a trustee for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 2013. She has also been named to Fortune’s “50 Most Powerful Women in Business,” Variety’s “Power of Women” and Glamour’s “Women of the Year.
Rhimes attributes her success to dedication and hard work — not settling for “good enough” is what took her career to where it is today, she said.
“I sort of have this attitude that something is not perfect until it’s actually perfect,” she said, “so we might as well keep working on it.”