Actress Retta, Trinity ‘92, returned to campus Saturday to speak as part of the Sophomore Spark Summit, QuadEx programming intended to provide support to second-year students as they navigate their academic and professional journeys.
Marietta Sirleaf, professionally known as Retta, is known for her roles as Donna Meagle on NBC's “Parks and Recreation” and Ruby Hill on NBC's “Good Girls.” She joined Gary Bennett, vice provost for undergraduate education, in Page Auditorium for a fireside chat, where she shared stories from her time at Duke, her journey to television and life advice she has accumulated along the way.
“While you're working towards a goal, you can't just be worrying about that goal. You have to be able to enjoy yourself because otherwise, you're not living life,” she said about managing stress during busy periods of life.
Retta was a dedicated Cameron Crazie, missing only two home games during her four years at Duke. When exploring colleges in high school, her classmates focused on “the Harvards and the Yales”—but she said she chose Duke for its “essence of an Ivy, but the vibe of a cool school.”
Bennett then joked that the University should add that phrase to their website.
Retta’s advice for ‘[treating] yo self’
Referring to stress in life, Retta emphasized that students shouldn’t “waste [their] time fearing it, just live in it when it happens.”
When asked how she embraced the “Treat Yo Self” philosophy during her time at Duke, she reminisced about her time in Section 17 of Cameron Indoor Stadium and indulgence in Chessmen cookies.
Bennett asked Retta who helped her the most when she was at Duke. She responded with a story about a time she faced difficulty in one of her chemistry classes while studying for a test in Pegram Residence Hall. She recalled a classmate who took the time to explain the complex concept to her in a way that she finally understood.
“He opened my eyes and basically gave me my future, as far as I thought,” said Retta, who was planning to go to medical school at the time. Bennett and Retta discussed the insurmountable impact that just a few minutes of support can have on someone's life trajectory.
Life after Duke
After her four years at Duke, Retta got a job in Research Triangle Park as a chemist. In that year, she said she watched a lot of television and began to think to herself, “I could do this.”
Eventually, she began to take acting classes, do stand-up comedy and perform at open mics. Soon after, she said she gained the courage to drive from North Carolina to California in pursuit of a career in comedy and acting.
Retta recalled her parents’ advice during this transition. Her father told her to get health insurance, she said, while her mom’s guidance was to not embarrass her father's name.
“So I dropped my last name,” she said, prompting a chorus of laughter and cheers.
Throughout the event, she continuously emphasized to students that things are not as serious as they may seem. She reminded the roughly 250 students in attendance to enjoy the journey they are on now and focus less on the pressures of the future.
“Until you die, it worked. Something worked, you made it.”
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Kathryn Thomas is a Trinity junior and news editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.