By Taylor Ragan '07
Growing up, “Light and Life” was more than just a motto to me, and St. Mary’s was and continues to be more than just a school. I truly enjoyed going to school. The support of the community created a desire to strive for excellence. The teachers embodied love and acceptance. Their passion for teaching instilled a love of learning and encouraged me to live life to the fullest. In essence, St. Mary’s was and still is synonymous with home.
While in school, I was involved in almost every club and activity SMS offered, but my passion was acting. I loved the thrill of engaging an audience to make them feel something—to cause them to consider the world in a different light. But, more than anything, I relished stepping into someone else’s shoes for a few hours because that simple act taught me empathy and how to be a better version of myself.
When I reflect on my involvement in theater at St. Mary’s, there is not necessarily a single moment or a play that made the experience so special; there is one person— former Director of Plays Jenny Madden. Mrs. Madden had a gentle yet firm manner that garnered affection and respect. She has always been a constant in her students’ lives as someone they can depend on and trust.
Mrs. Madden is one of the most accepting and supportive people I have ever met, and she loves her students as if they are her own. Because of her encouragement, I felt comfortable being myself unabashedly—no matter how ridiculous I might have been at times. One of my favorite memories is an example of that. In 5th grade, I was eager to impress Mrs. Madden with my first Middle School play audition, so I had my father do reconnaissance work for me. He found out that Mrs. Madden loved Tennessee Williams. My dad, who knew nothing about the theater or finding appropriate monologues for children, proceeded to help me learn and prepare a Blanch DuBois monologue from A Streetcar Named Desire.
On the day of the audition, 11-year-old me mounted that stage in Schadt Hall and proceeded to spill my guts as I discussed the morbidity of death and attempted to embody the mind of a fallen woman. Despite being an utterly absurd and inappropriate choice of audition material, Mrs. Madden never laughed. She gave me that warm smile and told me what a good job I had done. I felt so proud and accomplished. As I began to grow in this art and chase my dreams, I was not afraid to try and fail because of Mrs. Madden. I felt loved for who I was and felt confident to be myself.
Almost anyone you ask has at least one teacher they remember as having a powerful impact on their life. For many SMS girls, Mrs. Jenny Madden is that teacher. She was my first acting teacher, who fostered within me a deep love for the arts. So much so that after St. Mary’s, I received a bachelor’s degree in theater from the University of Mississippi and pursued a career in acting.
Jenny Madden continues to be my role model and friend. I am ecstatic to be following in her footsteps as the new leader of the theatre department at SMS. Although I can never take her place, I hope to make her proud. If I can help change one child’s life the way she changed mine, I will feel like I have accomplished something great in this life.
Taylor Ragan ’07 was heavily involved in the theater program while at SMS. Ragan earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in acting and English literature from the University of Mississippi. After graduating from Ole Miss, Ragan spent the next ten years in Los Angeles, CA, working as a commercial actor while living with her husband, Gene, and dog, Presley. Ragan joined the St. Mary’s faculty as a Performing Arts Teacher. She is thrilled to return to Memphis and Rose Theater.
175 Years of St. Mary's
This story is part of our 175 Years of St. Mary's series. For 175 years, the mission of St. Mary’s Episcopal School has been to provide a superior educational experience for girls. Our robust academics, Episcopal identity, and rich traditions create an environment where girls flourish as students, athletes, creators, performers, and more. Most importantly, at St. Mary’s, integrity, compassion, and confidence are the norm for our girls. From Chapel to the PE class, alumnae reflect on the experiences and traditions that have made St. Mary’s a special place for girls to learn and thrive for 175 years. Click below to read the other stories in the series.