Honorary Degree Citation - Ann Dowd

Friday, May 27, 2016
Ann Dowd '78
Doctor of Fine Arts


A brilliant actor, you have for more than three decades embodied, interpreted and expressed the truth that lies at the core of every character to whom you have given voice throughout your distinguished career in theatre, film and television. You have been described as a “mid-career supernova,” whose talent is now exploding on screens of all sizes in a storm of new-found acclaim.

Your riveting performances as Tom Hanks’ sister in "Philadelphia," Natalie Portman’s mother in "Garden State" and Frances McDormand’s friend in "Olive Kittredge," have been eclipsed by your star turn in the 2012 independent film "Compliance." As Patti Levin, the silent, chain-smoking leader of a cult on HBO’s "The Leftovers," you foment tension and menace without saying a word. As the sister of a serial killer in "True Detective," your few minutes on screen framed the most talked about scene in the season one finale.

Yet an acting career was not in your plan when you traveled from home in Holyoke to become a premed student at Holy Cross. The Dowd family dynasty on Mount St. James began with your grandfather, James J. Dowd, Class of 1905, followed by your uncle, James J. Dowd Jr. '45, and your father, John E. Dowd '50, a proud Crusader, who sadly passed away too young during your senior year of high school. Your sister, Kate graduated in 1976 with the College’s first class of women. You and two cousins followed.

The actor Meryl Streep tells young performers to “Educate yourself in everything, but acting.” Her sound advice underscores the value of a liberal arts education to gifted actors like you and speaks to the heart of our academic mission. Amid labs and classrooms, you found your true joy and life’s calling on the stage in Fenwick. After graduation, you went on to The Theatre School at DePaul University where you earned an MFA. 

Your commitment to the performing arts extends beyond the stage and the cameras. You teach your craft in the acting program at CAP21, a professional musical theatre training conservatory in New York. You advise your students to do what you did, “Put your head down and keep going, even if there aren’t any roles.”

Today, your litany of accolades includes the 2013 National Board of Review Award for best supporting actress for "Compliance," a shared Virtuoso Award for the same role, a Clarence Derwent Award for your Broadway debut performance in the play "Candida," and three Joseph Jefferson Awards for excellence in Chicago theatre.

In the best Jesuit tradition, you are a woman for the most vulnerable among us. You are deeply committed to helping to remove the barriers that prevent children from realizing their potential. In addition to being an advocate for children in foster care, you have served on the board of New York’s LearningSpring School for children who are on the autism spectrum.

That all may know of our esteem for you as a tremendous actor, masterfully exploring the feelings, frailties and insights that make us human, the College of the Holy Cross confers upon you this day, the degree, Doctor of Fine Arts, honoris causa.