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Tarah Donoghue ’00 Prize Day Speaker

Posted: March 14, 2009

Tarah Donoghue, Class of 2000, presented an outstanding graduation speech at today's Prize Day Ceremony.

Ms. Donoghue earned a double major in Government and Art History from Georgetown University. Her early career was spent at the White House - first as an Assistant Press Secretary to the Vice President and then as Deputy Press Secretary to Laura Bush, the First Lady.

After leaving the White House, Ms. Donoghue was an associate at Gibraltar Associates, a public relations firm. Ms. Donoghue is currently a Communications Consultant with the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation in Boston.

Following are her remarks:

St. Mark’s students, faculty and staff, parents and families, members of the Board of Trustees…Good morning and thank you.

I am deeply honored to be with the St. Mark’s School class of 2009.

Your class is composed of a diverse and talented group of individuals, representing more than ten countries and twenty-one states across America.

Tomorrow you will be unified by one similarity: You will all be St. Mark’s graduates.

Here in Southborough, you have received the guidance and care of a talented and selfless faculty—some who have been your biggest critics…but also your biggest fans.

You have learned the life long lessons of playing team sports—winning with confidence and class… losing with grace and humility.

You have been inspired by the sources of creativity and culture that this school offers—nurturing and supporting your individual interests and passions.

Today I can see the pride in the faces of your parents and families. They have worked hard to give you the unique opportunity of a St. Mark’s education, and you will appreciate their generosity more and more with each year of your life.

My days since leaving St. Mark’s have been shaped by the values, the knowledge, and the friendships I took away from here.

And I’m grateful that my parents gave me such a tremendous foundation for my life.

In preparation for this speech, I thought back to my own Prize Day in 2000 and tried to remember the words of advice from my graduation speaker…

He was a St. Mark’s alum and founder of the financial web site Motley Fool named David Gardner. These days, I wish I had taken notes at David’s speech—I might be better off financially…

But what I do remember most vividly that day is the black eye I suffered from a lacrosse game the weekend before. In fact, when I was invited to speak today I was excited at the prospect of re-doing some of those old photos from my Prize Day…

But I know my main responsibility is to share with you a bit about the adventures I have had since graduating from St. Mark’s and my hopes for each of you as you leave campus.

This morning I want to talk about opportunity. Opportunity is what I know, and I found so much opportunity because of the skills and spirit of discovery I developed at St. Mark’s.

For me, a career path I never expected to pursue arose from seizing a random opportunity. My work in government began from responding to a bulletin board posting in the Georgetown University Government Department, where I saw a flyer seeking White House interns.

So if you think you have a clearly defined path for the next four years, I would encourage you to think again and to keep your eyes open for new and unforeseen experiences.

The Class of 2009 is tasked with resolving some very unique challenges both within your communities and beyond our borders.

Today I urge you to see these challenges as an opportunity.

Because of technology, much of our world is a closely connected place; we cannot ignore the critical and urgent needs of others far away.

With Skype and Facebook, the opportunity to engage in causes anywhere in the world is just a click away. You’re online, and your causes are viral. You can meet people with shared passions on every continent.

But take the next step…Find your area of interest and passion and get out in the field.

Continue and expand upon the great work that you have already started…

I know this past year you have tutored at Immaculate Conception School and provided meals at Our Father’s Table in Marlborough. You have worked to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on campus with the Green Team. You have held mock electoral debates and election watching parties in dorm common rooms.

Now is a time when a sense of political interest among young people in this country—no matter what party affiliation—is at its highest point ever.

The 2008 Presidential campaigns brought forth a level of engagement in the future of this country that was unprecedented for our generation.

Use this momentum. Don’t let age be a barrier to your achievements. Get right out there and be as active as you can be in your area of interest.

I know that hard work will bring boundless opportunities regardless of your age.

At age twenty-seven I’ve already been to more places than I thought I would by the time I was 50.

And I’ve been shocked – and humbled – by the amount of responsibility people have been willing to give me. The opportunities are out there. But you have to look for them.

A little luck does not hurt either…but that does not come out of nowhere. One of my favorite sayings was often spoken by Mr. Wiedergott, a former teacher and Athletic Director at St. Mark’s. He always said: “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

Former President George W. Bush, with his tendencies to invent words, would call this “prep-or-tunity”...I’m not kidding…

I would like to share a brief story that demonstrates how you will use the lasting skills you have learned here at St. Mark’s:

The morning started out like any other White House morning for me, with a 5:45 am arrival to my small East Wing office, and a careful read of the day’s newspapers with pen in hand.

I then headed over to the West Wing at 7:30 am for my daily meeting with the other White House press secretaries covering the major news items of the day and our strategies for response…As usual, thirty minutes in the press office for this meeting consumed my entire notebook of paper.

That day was a travel day for the First Lady and her staff, and after my meeting, I raced out to the South Lawn to board Mrs. Bush’s motorcade to head out to Andrews Air Force Base.

After what was always a very quick ride, we pulled up on the tarmac next to Bright Star—the Air Force call sign for the First Lady’s plane—and boarded our flying office.

Right when I sat down across from Mrs. Bush in the cabin, she expressed great concern about a specific news item of the day—the tragic assassination of a female Afghan government official by Taliban militants.

I briefed her further on what I knew, and she asked that I quickly prepare a press statement for her review by the time we were “wheels down” at our destination.

This situation created a tight but typical deadline for me with the short flight, but I was prepared to be fast and accurate—two requirements of my job working for Mrs. Bush.

After having taken very thorough notes at my morning briefing on this same security issue, I was ready to deliver results to my boss.

I must admit…I have to thank my St. Mark’s history teacher, Mr. Lyons, entirely for my detailed note-taking and analysis skills.

The preparation and training I received in his class has stayed with me my entire academic and professional career.

I gained such invaluable skills here at St. Mark’s, and you too leave with them today.

While I do not have many years of wisdom to share with you, I have been very fortunate to travel to some exotic places and meet some interesting people.

In closing, I’d like to share a few pieces of advice based on my recent adventures:

First, you cannot always pick and choose the experiences you learn from.

I certainly would have preferred for my first time speaking on the record as a White House spokesperson to have been on the subject of national security.

However, the first time I was called upon to respond to press inquiries was when the Vice President shot a man in the face while hunting in Texas. That was my introduction to crisis communications…

Second, make sure to put yourself in a position where you are constantly challenged and constructively criticized.

When I first started working for Mrs. Bush, I received more red pen marks on my briefing papers and press statements than I could ever imagine. Yet I continued to learn from her and refine my writing.

And oh the delight in seeing a paper marked with nothing in red but the word “good” from the First Lady—the White House editor-in-chief.

Third, be flexible and always resourceful.

Your St. Mark’s education has taught you to be problem solvers and creative thinkers. In my foreign travels, I was often called upon to make the seemingly impossible happen—like coordinating live TV interviews from places with no electricity, from remote villages in Mali to the beaches of Midway Island.

I learned that oftentimes, the answer is whatever you come up with to get the job done right.

And lastly, be aware of and open to meeting interesting people. You will likely learn the most from those you least expect.

For me, my most memorable White House moments were not from interactions with high level diplomats or policy-makers, but from my daily conversations with the White House residence staff:

James Ramsey is a White House butler who has served for six administrations; Dale Haney is the head groundskeeper who has been there for 36 years; and White House florist Nancy Clarke served since the Carter Administration.

I learned so much from taking the time to get to know each of these individuals who have experienced history from behind the scenes.

For me, getting involved was about serving in our nation’s government.

I had the incredible chance to be a temporary custodian of a job where there was a sense of living history around me every day.

It was a great adventure and I hope each of your will leave here today and look for opportunities where you will both challenge yourselves and serve others…and in doing so find adventure too.

Congratulations to all of you. Thank you so much for giving me the chance to share this important day with you.