Ellie Kemper ’02 closed the University’s second “She Roars” conference, attended by over 3,000 alumnae, by praising the resilient women in her life and recalling her years as an undergraduate.
The actress and comedian is known for her role on “The Office” and for starring in “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” for which she received two Emmy nominations.
Aili McConnon ’02 introduced Kemper, whom she met on the first day of field hockey practice, with a slideshow that featured pictures of Kemper as a University student.
“Ellie always looks to make others feel at ease,” McConnon said.
McConnon then passed the stage to Kemper, who began her speech by taking a selfie with the crowd.
With humorous self-deprecation, she said that she wondered why she was selected to speak at the event when there are many other capable alumnae, like Michelle Obama ’85, Brooke Shields ’87, and Queen Noor of Jordan ’73.
“When Queen Noor says ‘no’ to something, people turn to me next,” she joked.
She then wondered if she was called to speak because of her thesis.
“Had my undergrad English treatise on irony in the face of tragedy earned the recognition it had always deserved, 16 years later?” she asked the crowd, who met her comment with laughs.
Kemper said she wondered what sort of insight she has that no other speaker has. She said she has worked with confident and strong women throughout her life, starting with her own mother, Dorothy "Dotty" Ann Jannarone Kemper ’72. Kemper began studying at the University as a junior when it started admitting women in 1969.
According to Kemper, her mother was a member of the Triangle Club and Cap and Gown eating club. She was also a “phenomenal athlete” and showed “how a woman should behave in the world.”
Kemper also spoke to her experiences on the field hockey team, for which she often warmed the bench.
From her experiences with the field hockey team, she learned that “women are at their best when they are helping other women.”
“We listen to each other. We don’t interrupt each other,” she explained. “Women find strength in one another.”
Kemper expressed her gratitude for the University, where she met inspiring women who remained close friends for life.
Turning to her acting career, Kemper said that she had the privilege of working with some of the most talented women in her industry, mentioning Kristen Wiig and Mindy Kaling.
But Kemper also reflected on the gendered way she is asked about her work. She noted that people always ask her about what is it like to have Tina Fey as a boss. According to Kemper, people always want to know what it is like having a woman as a boss but never ask about male bosses.
“Nobody ever asks Donald Trump if it’s uncomfortable being the boss of all these people,” she said, adding that she is not comfortable with his being the boss of all Americans.
In comparison, Kemper described Tina Fey as “quiet, respectful, and diligent,” saying that she knew everyone’s names and would ask how their kids were doing.
Kemper called Fey an “absolute emblem of what it’s like to be a good female boss, or a good boss in general.”
As she neared the conclusion of her speech, Kemper said that she kept revisiting her remarks for this event during the “rough” events of the previous week, presumably referring to the highly contested nomination process leading up to Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court on Saturday.
To end her speech on a lighter note, she proceeded to lead the crowd in multiple tiger roars.
The reception ended with the group singing “Old Nassau.”
The event took place over dinner at 8:30 p.m. in Jadwin Gymnasium on Saturday, Oct. 6.