What Comes Next?

Class of 2010 Speaks to Upper School


Photo credit: Nick Saracino

Alumni Grace Smith and Jen O’Connor present on their Parker experience.

Francis W. Parker School seeks to educate students to be citizens of the world. After high school, Parker students are ready to set forth into the world with many opportunities. Grace Smith ‘10 and Jen O’Connor ‘10 are two former Parker students who presented at MX on November 29. They shared with high school students what they learned at Parker and how they have and continue to apply what they learned during their time in the school’s  welcoming halls.  

At the recent ten year reunion for the class of 2010, the two alumni decided to share the way Parker has affected them and how their career paths emerged after they graduated. Smith was at Parker for all fourteen years while O’Connor attended Parker for only her four years of high school.

At the MX, Upper School history teacher Andrew Bigelow gave an introduction for the alumni, as “lifelong citizens, lifelong learners.” 

The presentation began and the alumni spoke about their paths post high school. O’Connor went to University of Denver and studied journalism and is currently a freelance producer. Smith went to Wesleyan University and studied political science and environmental studies. 

O’Connor has been a part of a variety of projects. During the MX, O’Connor mentioned a video she made during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic for the 2020 Virtual Democratic National Convention. It had a focus on women’s rights and was shown for the third night of the Convention. O’Connor explained that it was intended to honor the 19th Amendment which gave women the right to vote. She shared that  she had to be innovative with the new type of video as in-person interviews were unable to occur due to the pandemic.  

One of the first instances of political action O’Connor took was at Parker. During the 2008 Presidential election, O’Connor along with several other students and Mr. Bigelow went door to door in Wisconsin to convince people to cast their ballot. O’Connor mentioned how she remembers the moment when Obama was elected President.

After her time at Wesleyan, Smith joined Teach for America. She explained how she formatted her classroom based on the Parker education she had received. 

“Everyone deserves an education like a Parker education,” Smith said. Her classroom emphasized “learning by doing” and “community,” two focal points of the Parker education. Smith also described that she wanted the classroom to “celebrate our different ways of learning.” 

After Teach for America, Smith decided to pursue environmental law and went to law school. She said that her interest stemmed from watching a documentary in one of her Parker classes with Upper School science teacher Elizabeth Druger. Grace is now an attorney in Colorado for the Environmental Defense Fund, focusing on the methane contribution to climate change. 

During the 2020 election, Smith decided to launch an instagram account @150.reasons It posted one blog per day leading up to the election that described a policy issue and how it contributed to the 2020 election. “I learned about the importance of social justice and democracy,” Smith said. 

Smith said that identifying a problem and finding solutions for it was one of the main skills that she learned at Parker which she continues to apply to her life.

Taking action on issues that are important to you is also key and they both explained how smaller actions can also help such as calling congress people. “Build activism into your life,” Smith said. 

The last slide in their presentation was a request that read: “As you think about your own progressive career…”. They explained that exploring a range of experiences and finding the “throughline” was their piece of advice for high school students.

“I thought it was very interesting, I thought it was cool to see what alumni are doing now, and how Parker as an institution has influenced their life,” MX Committee head Gray Joseph said.  

Freshman Sloane Freese also enjoyed the insight into the alumni careers. “I thought it was interesting to learn about how Parker education can translate into these opportunities and these different jobs in the real world, and how Parker’s morals and understandings can help shape who you are in the long run,” Freese said.