Nora Ephron '62


Alumnae Achievement Awards 2006


Nora Ephron '62


Nora Ephron '62 was an acclaimed essayist and novelist and was also respected and celebrated in Hollywood as a screenwriter, producer and director. Ms. Ephron began her career as a newspaper reporter for The New York Post. She wrote for such magazines including Esquire,  The New York Times Magazine, and New York Magazine. In 1975, a collection of her essays entitled Crazy Salad was published. She followed that with the widely acclaimed novel Heartburn.

In the early 1980s Ms. Ephron turned her attention to film, writing the screenplays for such films as Silkwood, Heartburn, and When Harry Met Sally. In the early 1990s she tried her hand at directing and producing in addition to writing, creating films including Sleepless in Seattle, Michael, You’ve Got Mail, Lucky Numbers, and Bewitched. Ms. Ephron received Academy Award nominations for best screenplay for Silkwood, When Harry Met Sally, and Sleepless in Seattle. When Harry Met Sally received a Golden Globe nomination for best screenplay. The Writers Guild of America honored both When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle with best screenplay nominations.

Nora passed away in 2012 from pneumonia, a complication resulting from acute myeloid leukemia, a condition that she was diagnosed with in 2006. However, celebrities have honored and paid tribute to her in numerous speeches, commenting on her brilliance, warmth, generosity, and wit.

Award Citation

Nora Ephron, a critically acclaimed journalist, screenwriter, novelist and filmmaker, you have used your unique perspective and voice to produce an extraordinary body of work that transcends categorization. As a journalist you received high praise and wide recognition for your column in Esquire magazine as well as for your work in the New York Times Magazine and New York Magazine. As one of the film industry’s most respected screenwriters you garnered numerous awards including three Academy Award nominations, for Silkwood, When Harry Met Sally, and Sleepless in Seattle. In a field where fewer than five percent of film directors are women, you have defied the odds by becoming a commercially successful film director. With your formidable wit, perceptive social observations, and gift for words, you have reached many audiences and provided a window into the often mystifying dance between men and women. Friends and colleagues describe you as tough, witty, smart, courageous, and generous. At Wellesley’s 1996 commencement you challenged the graduating seniors, quote: “Whatever you chose, however many roads you travel, I hope that you chose not to be a lady. I hope you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there. I also hope you will choose to make some trouble on behalf of women.” For embodying those ideals, Wellesley honors you.

Nora Ephron's Remarks

Thank you, I’m really excited, I finally have a broche.

Waited my whole life for a broche.

You know, I always thought—not that I ever was gonna spend one more year at Wellesley—but I always thought it would be good to take a physics course, and then I might know for sure whether it's true that when a dog runs over a suspension bridge it snaps. I’ve always wondered that.

I’m really so honored to be here and I thank everyone for voting for me—they all claim they voted for me! I’ve been back to Wellesley several times since—oh my God—1962, and I really feel when I come here that I’m like 110 years old because it is so different and it’s so clear to me how different it is. When I went to college here, yes it was really beautiful. It was the most beautiful place I had ever seen, and it kind of remains that, I have to say, all these years later. It is beautiful but, it was really bland. It was very bland and no one ever raised their hands in class. I’m not kidding, the professors used to- like, they were upset because...people were very bland. And I want to say though, that as bland and conservative as it was, it was never as bad as it is in Mona Lisa Smile. That’s one of the things I thought was most unfair about that movie is that it did not convey what a haven Wellesley was for women who were teachers and how whatever—whatever the word is, mishigas where I come from—craziness there was in terms of what they [official Wellesley] were projecting to those of us who were students, because when I went here it really was before everything happened: As I have said up here if you were interested in medicine, you were gonna marry a doctor. But whatever, whatever they conveyed to the students, what they conveyed to the professor was something else, which is: “This is a place for you” and the school, the College understood how other places did not hire women who were physicists, women who were biologists. It was great in that way.

In any case, the last time I was up here, I’m pretty sure—I’m trying to remember when this was, three or four years ago—was the most amazing night with Madeleine Albright and Hillary Clinton up on the stage right over there—or wherever I’m pointing, I have no idea—and it was a night of so much excitement, not just on the stage, but being part of the audience with the student body here. I was so excited to see how great you all are and then I couldn’t help thinking that I might have been wrong to be so hard on the Wellesley of my own day because look at what it had produced. Not just Hillary and Madeleine and Diane Sawyer, and Lynn Sherr and Ellen Levine and Cokie Robertson and Linda Wertheimer, just to name the people in my field and that’s nothing compared to all the other hundreds and hundreds of great women who went here. So anyway, thank you.

I guess if I would like to say one thing today, although I’m not really ever very good at saying one thing, but one of the things that never crossed my mind when I was here and sort of bursting to get out of here and get to New York and start my life was that I was not going to have one life; I was going to have several. I think this is sort of the dirty little secret. One of the things that we as women, in spite of the glass ceilings and in spite of the five-percents that still persist in various fields (although I think directing is now up to about seven), and in spite of the wage differentials and all the rest of the unfair things, I do think we have this slight advantage over men in that it is somehow easier for us to move sideways, to alter ourselves, to shift, to change careers slightly, or completely. To focus more on our children at a certain period of our lives and then more on work or vice versa. It's been something that I’ve noticed with myself and my friends: Almost all of my very close friends are doing something completely different from what they were doing, my girlfriends, 20 years ago. I feel that I’ve been really lucky because about every 10 years without quite realizing it, my own career has changed. When I went here, all I wanted to be—I mean from the time I was 13 years old and saw Lois Lane on television—I wanted to be a newspaper reporter. I was on the Wellesley College News, which was fantastic, and I went to New York and I became a newspaper reporter and I was 22 years old with a job on a big city newspaper and I thought, “I’m going to do this for the rest of my life.” And, of course I didn’t. Five years later I thought, “Now what?”  And I moved into magazines, and I wrote books, and essays, and then just at a certain point in my life where everyone in New York was writing a movie script, I wrote a movie script and it was right before my kids were born, so it was a very lucky thing for me because I couldn’t really go on being a journalist and travelling around and interviewing people. I had two small kids, and then of course no husband [waves hands in the air in a circular fashion] which was [pats her hair down] a little surprise. But the point is, and I mention this because, I mean I wasn’t prepared for this, and by the way my poor pathetic, class of 1962, talk about unprepared for divorce, I mean, talk about unprepared. But that’s one of the things I want to leave you for- with, is um… [laughter]

You know people always come up to give speeches to all of you and they talk about this, you know, the famous ‘can you have it all?’ question and it always surprises me because many of them do have it all, and then they come up and they say you can’t have it all. And I’m not gonna say that to you today because if having it all means love and work and children, of course you can have it all as long as you understand that it is going to be messy and it’s going to change, and you are too. I was so fascinated to read that unbelievably stupid piece in The New York Times a few months ago about those girls at Yale who all thought they had a clue what their life was going to be. I mean, what is wrong with them? You have no idea what is going to happen. You have to know that. So prepare yourself for a life of confusion and embrace it.

Thank you.


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