Shonda Rhimes, President Ann McElaney-Johnson and Maria Shriver after the "Architects of Change" conversation held at the Mount's Chalon Campus.
Architects of Change: Maria Shriver & Shonda Rhimes at the Mount
Los Angeles, Nov. 20, 2015 -- On Thursday, November 19, two titans of media and journalism — Maria Shriver and Shonda Rhimes — opened up a powerful conversation at Mount Saint Mary’s University in Los Angeles. A conversation that tackled leadership, confidence and how to say “yes” to a better world.
The talk, part of Shriver’s series, “Architects of Change: In Pursuit of the Common Good,” took place at Mount Saint Mary’s Chalon Campus. President Ann McElaney-Johnson introduced Shriver as a champion for women and social justice causes, a woman whose work is driven by a singular goal of making our world a more caring place.
An award-winning journalist, Shriver created the series to inspire a wave of “conscious idealists” — people who see things as they are, but think about what they can be. “Almost everything we see in this country today is about what divides us,” Shriver said. “But I want us to talk about what unites us to be compassionate, conscious citizens.”
During their conversation, Shriver asked Rhimes to examine some of the lessons shared in Rhimes new bestselling book, “The Year of Yes.” For Rhimes, the creator and writer of some of television’s top shows, fame came with a cost. By Thanksgiving 2013, Rhimes realized her introverted personality was crippling her, taking an unhealthy physical, mental and emotional toll on the writer.
“I was very unhappy and it was embarrassing to be unhappy when you’re supposed to be someone who has everything,” Rhimes shared with the audience. “I wasn’t socializing or talking with anybody. If I wasn’t writing, I was miserable. That’s unconscionable, really. But my world became smaller and smaller and smaller. I had taken myself out of the world.”
So she decided to start saying “yes” to new opportunities. Rhimes forced herself to conquer her fear of public speaking. She lost 127 pounds to get in shape. And she became a more honest and open person – with herself and those around her.
“I realized how disconnected I was from the world and how I wasn’t being a good citizen of the world,” Rhimes said. “The more you say ‘yes,’ the more you become aware of the world around you. You connect with people.”
Shriver asked Rhimes a question about how individuals can be leaders, even if they don’t hold a position of power in the media, or in politics.
“I think leadership involves a willingness to delve into difficult conversations,” Rhimes responded. “Being willing to have conversations that nobody wants to have, that are most often avoided. Those conversations can help you cross bridges. Across the field of a difficult conversation lies peace.”
Rhimes has been praised in her professional life for the rich, well-rounded female characters she has created for TV shows such as “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal” and “How To Get Away With Murder.” President McElaney-Johnson applauded her on campus for how “she has brought female characters to the forefront in all of her series. We celebrate her ability to create powerful women in complex situations that not only entertain us but also make us think.”
“I always think that’s interesting because I don’t think I’ve done anything other than write women who are real,” Rhimes said. “And I’m always amazed when people say that’s trailblazing because I think the alternative is two-dimensional, weak, uninteresting women — and I don’t know why you’d want to write those kinds of characters anyways.”
Her advice to people who want to see more characters like those? Stop watching programs that don’t feature well-rounded female and minority characters. “Viewers are the most powerful forces in the industry. If you don’t consume it, they won’t make it.”
The conversation touched on a number of other important topics, ranging from Alzheimer’s research to the needs of female homeless veterans and employees who don’t earn a living wage.
Shriver and Rhimes challenged their audience — made up of guests, alums and students — to find their own passions and discover ways to tackle the issues that matter most to them.
“My dad always told me, ‘the only limit to your success is your own imagination,’” Rhimes said. “It annoyed me as a kid. But as an adult, I realize it applies to every aspect of your life. Your children, your relationships, the problems of the world. It’s really about your belief in yourself. The stories you tell yourself, about yourself, are how you make your way into the world.”
Deanna Consiglio ’16 was among the Mount Saint Mary’s students who attended the event. “I’m leaving here today truly inspired,” she said. “Shonda Rhimes inspired me to say ‘yes’ to any new opportunity that comes my way. And Maria Shriver inspired me to be my own leader, and help be a part of changes that I want to see happen.”
To learn more about the women’s leadership program at Mount Saint Mary's, visit our Women's Leadership Program, as well as our pages on our annual Report on the Status of Women and Girls in California and our Women's Leadership Conference.