Community in Action

Community in Action
Community in Action

Dr. Cornelia Griggs ’01 led this year’s Let Your Life Speak event as Founder’s Day and a push for financial aid came together for one powerful day of sharing, giving, and fun. 

When COVID-19 began tearing through emergency rooms across the nation, Cornelia Griggs ’01 was a pediatric surgery fellow in New York City. In her last year of a grueling nine-year medical education, Griggs’s finish line began to recede from view. Instead of looking forward to commencement, she was on the front lines of something altogether new: A mysterious respiratory illness was flooding the hospital, medical supplies were disappearing from shelves, city morgues were getting overwhelmed, and Griggs felt certain that things were only going to get worse. Unfortunately, she was right.

“My mother once told me that the best way to get back at life is to write a great book,” Griggs told Upper Schoolers during her Let Your Life Speak keynote address at this year’s Founder’s Day celebration. And so, once the world began to return to a new normal and most of us began to emerge from lockdown, Griggs sat down to write. The Sky Was Falling: A Young Surgeon’s Story of Bravery, Survival, and Hope came out this March and is already a national best-seller.

Griggs told students she can trace her decision to become a doctor back to Sidwell Friends. The late Upper School science teacher Melanie Fields instilled in Griggs a love of biology. Fields also encouraged Griggs to volunteer as a candy striper, which provided her with an early peek into hospital work. Plus, the Quaker values she was immersed in at Sidwell Friends kept Griggs focused on a sense of purpose to create a better world. Griggs often sees the “worst of humanity” when patients enter the hospital as victims of gunshot wounds, drug abuse, and domestic violence. “But my deep sense of altruism,” she said, “comes directly from Sidwell.”

On Tuesday, alumni like Griggs could be spotted everywhere on campus, sharing their own journeys from Sidwell Friends to their careers across an array of professions. This year, the Founder’s Day Let Your Life Speak alumni included Camille Collier ’07, Arizona State University assistant women’s basketball coach; Trevor Corson ’87, best-selling science writer and journalist; Kibwe Chase-Marshall ’97, fashion design consultant and design director; Lindsay Harris ’96, head of the Research and Scholars Center at the Smithsonian American Art Museum; Frederica Helmiere ’00, director of psychedelic practitioner training at the Synthesis Institute; and Nina Santiago ’98, senior attorney at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, among many others.

There was also a keynote speaker just for the Middle School. Yasmina Ahdab ’15, a communications specialist at Johns Hopkins University’s Planetary Health Alliance, told students, “Sidwell is where my love of conservation began.” Before her family moved to the Washington, DC, area, Ahdab spent her childhood in Florida—at a school that didn’t teach evolution. “At Sidwell,” Ahdab told Middle Schoolers, “I learned fundamental knowledge that I have taken with me for my whole life.”

The Let Your Life Speak programming was followed by a Founder’s Day celebration led by Head of School Bryan Garman, decked out as Thomas Sidwell (including knickers, faux mustache, and newsboy cap). After a sunny, outdoor Meeting for Worship, choruses from each division sang, and then it was off to a picnic and festival, complete with hotdogs and hamburgers, popcorn and cotton candy, a bouncy house and games.

What’s more, behind the scenes, the School was fundraising for financial aid with its Founder’s Day for Scholars campaign, which officially launched on Wednesday. The team raised more than half a million dollars with over 300 donors to help ensure that income is not an obstacle to a Sidwell Friends education. It’s an easy case to make when such dynamic alumni are on campus to inspire the next generation.

“Of any group I have been identified with,” Griggs said, “I am most proud of Sidwell Friends.”


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