Alumni Return to Discuss Progressive Education in Action

Grace Smith ’10 and Jen O’Connor ’10 returned to Parker on Monday for a Morning Ex, where they discussed how their experience with progressive education at Parker helped shape who they are today. Both women continue to participate as active citizens and are using their voices and talents to fight injustices.

O’Connor explained her work as a television producer who has worked on numerous projects. One of her most impressive projects was a five-minute video she produced for the 2020 Democratic National Committee. The video celebrated the fight for women’s rights in honor of the 100th anniversary of the passing of the 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote.

O’Connor said that her interest in activism began during her time at Parker. She specifically cited an experience she had knocking on the doors of undecided voters during the 2008 election. “At Parker, we were always extremely encouraged to get out there and make a difference,” O’Connor said.

Smith talked about her journey, which began with the Teach for America program, bringing the same appreciation for education she experienced at Parker to her own students. After her stint with teaching, Smith went to law school to pursue environmental law, which led her to become a lawyer for the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). Her inspiration began at Parker, where she first learned about the effects of climate change and decided she wanted to make a difference.

In addition to Morning Ex, Smith shared her experience with Upper School students in the Climate Science and Environmental Justice class. She discussed the EDF’s important work to empower communities with effective tools to be involved with local legislation for their environmental protection. She also discussed her current work regarding the reduction of methane emissions, which includes testifying before the Environmental Protection Agency to advocate for zero-emitting pneumatic controllers.

Upper School history teacher Andy Bigelow was instrumental in bringing Smith and O’Connor back to campus. “My goal was to bring back the days of Alumni Morning Exes when we all got to see each other. When these kids graduate each year, it often makes me sad knowing that we may never cross paths again. I ran into both of them at their 10th reunion, and I asked them to come back and share the wealth of their incredible experiences. They certainly have fulfilled our mission, live by example and make us all proud,” said Bigelow. 

Both O’Connor’s and Smith’s journeys show the power of a Parker education and the amazing accomplishments that are possible when students learn the importance of active citizenship and the meaning of making a difference. As parting words, and in true reflection of the Parker mission, Smith said, “Build activism into your life.”

Click here for photos of their visit.
Francis W. Parker School educates students to think and act with empathy, courage and clarity as responsible citizens and leaders in a diverse democratic society and global community.