Jen Keefe '08: Unapologetically Herself

By her own admission, Jen Keefe ’08 was (and perhaps still is) a class clown—but with a caveat.
“Be a respectful class clown,” she urged Upper School students at a recent Friday assembly. The comedian and actor, who has appeared on Netflix’s Orange is the New Black and the NBC drama Manifest, returned to campus to speak to current students. Her talk, which elicited laughter, nods, and murmurs of “So good,” had a relatable theme: Learn from my mistakes, Keefe told the crowd.

On the screens behind her, Keefe displayed photos and scrapbook pages from her Rivers days, providing comic patter to accompany the images. “Were you even born in 2008?” she mused as the screen displayed photos of Keefe in awkward poses and dated fashions.

She told stories of high school embarrassments, such as having her parents call the school to insist that she be placed in an honors English class—a cringe-worthy incident that even now, she says, “makes me want to die.” Looking at a photo of herself and a friend dressed for prom, Keefe wondered, “Why did we have hockey sticks? Why am I dressed in white, like a 17-year-old bride?” In telling the story of how she got asked to prom (awkwardly, of course) she inadvertently let slip the name of her prom date, whose identity she’d meant to conceal. Then she shrugged it off, saying, “He’s doing just fine; better than me. He’s a doctor, and I’m performing standup at 9 a.m. at my high school.”

There was the stapled-skirt episode, the eating-cereal-in-class incident, and the unforgettable diarrhea attack, which nearly brought down the house in the retelling. There were reminiscences about rap numbers concocted for occasions ranging from sporting events to school elections. (“Do not be a white person who calls herself Jeminem” was the lesson learned.) Keefe is such a natural comedian that she even got a laugh while sipping from a water bottle.

But she also had a serious point to make, which was not lost on the audience. “Don’t be afraid to be wacky,” she urged. Do it respectfully, but take those risks and put yourself out there. She recalled math teacher Kristin Harder once telling her, “You’re unapologetic for who you are,” which Keefe calls “the best compliment I ever got.”

She continued, “That’s my advice: Be unapologetic. Let that heart do its thing. Be yourself.”