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Power House Theater discussion at Vassar

April 17, 1997 | Vassar College

In 1997, Meryl Streep attended several functions during her day at Vassar. Women’s Studies Director Coleen Cohen had coordinated a study of The River Wild, one of Streep’s films, by classes from several departments. Streep visited the combined class, and students were given the opportunity to discuss the film with her. After a luncheon with Women’s Studies students at Pratt House, Streep went to the Powerhouse Theater for a talk with Film and Drama majors. In this discussion, Streep addressed many practical concerns of an audience full of students who were also hoping to find a career in film and acting. The topics included Streep’s acting methods, accent techniques, and tips on a path to success. Chair of the Drama and Film Department James Steerman said, “Not only did her discussion with film and drama majors go well, but the whole event was a splendid success.”

Later that day, Streep spoke to her largest audience of the day in the Chapel. There, President Fran Fergusson bestowed the President’s Distinguished Visitor Award, which the College gives in lieu of honorary degrees, upon Streep. Fergusson said that “Meryl Streep spoke to all the generations gathered in the Chapel. She reminded us all about the choices we make and the necessity of balancing our personal lives and professional aspirations. She was witty, beautiful, engaging, honest, incredibly smart and just plain nice. We could not have had a better, happier visit from a more splendid person. She personifies everything that we could hope a Vassar graduate might be.” Streep gave a speech about herself, her acting career and the realities of fame. She then took questions from the audience, with subjects ranging from her time at Vassar to her favorite leading men. Streep let her audience in on what an “odd, isolating experience” fame is and put “the F word” in perspective by saying that “grabbing the cold gold at the Oscars was great. But it didn’t come close to being handed my first-born… or my fourth-born for that matter.” The essence of her speech was that “the real measure of your life is taken in an interior vessel: your heart. And how full you’ve filled your cup, the hearts and souls of people that you’ve been lucky enough to keep close to you… is up to you.”

Streep ended the day with a dinner at the President’s house with Women’s Studies and Drama department faculty and students, along with professors whom Streep had had in her time here. When Streep left the campus that evening, she left many awe-struck students behind. The major point that she impressed upon so many of the people whom she met was that, as Gesek put it, “she is just a wonderful person.” Streep possesses none of the Hollywood attitude that one might expect to encounter in an actress as successful as she. Streep did a noteworthy job of reminding her audience that she is just as human as you or I. One could clearly see what a wonderful person she is. When she arrived on campus many people were anticipating a modern film and drama icon rather than the truly genuine person whom she is.