Nerves would be natural for members of the class of 2018, who have just 14 days of school left before graduation.
But alumna Rachael Burke '10 offered comfort and an inspiring send-off to ease their anxiety during the Sixth-Form Induction Dinner, welcoming the class into Brooks School's alumni community, on May 3.
New York City-based comedian Rachael Burke took a humorous take on inspiring students during the event. (Karl Arakelian '83, P'18, P'20 also offered remarks).
"On the evening of my Brooks induction dinner, I remember feeling very apprehensive about losing touch with my friends, and many of you may be feeling the same thing tonight," she said. "But let me tell you that eight years later, my friends from Brooks are still some of my best friends in the world, and they will be forever."
Keeping in touch has not only kept her friendships going strong, but it helped launched her career as a comedian.
After winning a dance contest on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon while studying at Trinity College (with a move she and friends invented while at Brooks called "The Nug"), she sent everyone she met on set thank-you emails. A year later, one of the writers took Burke on as an intern. Then, during her senior year of college, she revealed that "a simple 'Hello, hope all is well' email" led to a job interview at the show.
"I actually left college before graduation in order to start working at The Tonight Show when Jimmy Fallon took over," Burke shared in her speech to students. "I graduated a year later, but won my first Emmy before graduating from college. And my team of four now has two Emmys!"
The induction dinner "is a fun way to start the graduation countdown because students get to dress up, have a nice meal, speak with alums, and hear from an alumni speaker," said Assistant Director of Alumni Programs Carly Churchill '10. "They also receive a gift of a Brooks tie or necklace that they wear on graduation."
Currently a contributing joke writer for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon in New York City — where she also runs the program's social media and a sketch comedy show called "Kids These Days" at the People's Improv Theater — Burke said, "I landed the job of my dreams." Fallon, she added, "literally says jokes on national TV that I write at home in my matching pajama set."
Keeping in touch "is one of the most important things you can do in life, as illustrated by me getting my dream job at the Tonight Show, when I kept in touch with folks at the show," she offered in all seriousness to the soon-to-be graduates gathered in the Frick Dining Hall.
Connection continues to inspire her career today, through advice from a Brooks alumni: the late television and film writer Lorenzo Semple '40.
Following Burke's graduation from Brooks, she reached out to Brooks alumni in TV and film. "I was surprised when Lorenzo excitedly replied back to my email," she told students. "It was amazing to meet a Brooks alum, who graduated 70 years before me, and who also shared my interest in comedy and film and TV. Lorenzo was the coolest ...[And] every time I communicated with Lorenzo, he closed with the delightful phrase: 'Be well, do good, and stay in touch.'"
The last part of that message "has been the key for me," she said. Explaining to students, Burke continued, "Just like me, you can reach out to folks like Lorenzo and stay in touch as he suggested. And among the other alumni of Brooks School, you will find advice and even friendship that you never expected. When you graduate, you should make yourself available to others as well."
Burke put the principle into play once again when writing her speech for the induction dinner (see one table of guests, above). Seeking help, she turned to former English teacher Alex Costello, her play director at Brooks. Costello not only helped with the wording, he gave her a pep talk on the big day, speaking with her on the phone during Burke's drive from her hometown of Swampscott to campus.
"I love Brooks and my experience there, and the atmosphere and community helped me to grow immensely, so it is only fitting that I give some of that love back," she noted after making her speech. "The institution and people of Brooks changed the arc of my life, and for that I will be forever grateful, and I will always come back if I can contribute in any way."
A number of students in the class of 2018 have already reached out to Burke on her social media accounts — including Instagram, Twitter and Facebook — which pleases her to no end. "I'm glad that my message of staying in touch is already working!" she said. "I hope that the students take my stories to heart and keep in touch with their friends, and continue to stay connected with their Brooks' peers and faculty, even after leaving school as I do."
Until then, she said she'll cherish the new memories she made returning last week. "I loved making students laugh as I reminisced about my Brooks experiences and my life since I left Brooks," Burke said. "But mostly, I enjoyed meeting current students and hearing about their lives at Brooks and their future aspirations. Many of the students were just like I was seven or eight years ago, and I know that they are all going on to big things."
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