You will have a Memory: An interview with Breck Trustee Sharon Ryan

Susan Cossette

Across the country and world—and right here in our own Breck community—members of the Class of 2020 will soon be facing the changing ways in which the time-honored milestone of graduation will be recognized and celebrated. This was a situation that Breck Trustee Sharon Ryan faced herself a half century ago, when her own college graduation was cancelled suddenly and unexpectedly.  

The proud parent of a Breck alum, son Eric ’97, Sharon served as President of Breck’s Board of Trustees and rejoined the board this year. We’re thrilled to have her back! We recently spoke with Sharon about her personal experience, as well as her thoughts for our own community during these challenging times.

The year was 1970, a time of tremendous political unrest in our nation. The Vietnam War was at its height, and our nation was embroiled in fierce divisiveness. President Richard Nixon had just ordered for the bombing of Cambodia, and in early May, four student protestors were shot and killed by the Ohio National Guard at Kent State University. At the time, Sharon was a senior at Boston University and was in the midst of her last series of final exams.

“I was sitting in my apartment at my desk taking a take-home exam and received word from the school,” explained Sharon. “Take your cap and gown back the bookstore. That was it.”

Senator Edward Kennedy was scheduled to be the keynote speaker at Sharon’s commencement ceremonies. With a member of this high-profile political family slated to visit campus, local members of the student political activist group Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) were planning protests against the Vietnam War, anticipating that Senator Kennedy’s appearance would garner greater visibility for their efforts. With two Kennedy brothers already tragically assassinated (President John Kennedy in 1963; Senator Robert Kennedy in 1968), Edward Kennedy’s personal security was something the Boston University administration simply did not want to risk.

“My mother passed away in November at the age of 105,” says Sharon. “While I received my diploma in the mail, she didn’t have the opportunity to see me officially graduate. She held a grudge for all these years. It was only when I became a Trustee that I had the chance to get gowned up. This was graduation!”

“My daughter Lesley graduated from BU in 1996, but it was a little late to walk with her,” adds Sharon. “And while 2020 is my 50th reunion year, with the current pandemic, there won’t be any formal celebration.”

Having experienced herself the personal disappointment of the lost opportunity to culminate many years of hard work, Sharon has much empathy for Breck’s students, whether they are members of the Class of 2020—or future graduates.

“Unlike me all those years ago, at Breck we are trying to make it happen for our students,” notes Sharon. “Yes, you are going to be unique, but you will have something to remember. Breck’s leaders are trying their hardest to be on the cutting edge. You will have a memory, and in the scheme of things, you will be with your peers to have your final moment of closure, albeit in a different way. You will have a story to tell, and we will all learn from this.”

While Breck’s Board of Trustees are charged with the policy and fiscal management, Sharon feels a deep sense of responsibility in ensuring that her leadership role in our community ultimately impacts the lives of our students and families.

“Breck is here for you,” concludes Sharon. “We can support the school’s administration and make the very best of this situation that we possibly can. Good leaders band together and say, ‘Let’s work through this together so people feel good in the end.’”

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Sharon Ryan has a history of volunteer work and community service which includes leadership positions that support education, the arts and social agencies serving the needs of families, children and underrepresented minorities. 

Mrs. Ryan has been a trustee and active alumnus of Boston University. Over the years she has served on several trustee committees and is presently the chair of the Academic Affairs committee. She is a member of the Dean’s Advisory Board of Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. 

As a resident of Minneapolis, Mrs. Ryan is the past President and current trustee of the Breck Episcopal College Preparatory School, past Vice President of the American OccupationalTherapy Foundation and member of the Catholic Academy board. She has been a member of the Girl Friends, Inc. Minneapolis / St. Paul chapter. 

Mrs. Ryan is married to Robert L. Ryan, retired Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of Medtronic, Inc. They have two married children and three grandchildren. She enjoys needlepoint and traveling to New York and Boston to visit her grandchildren. 
 

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