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The Science Survey

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The Science Survey

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The Science Survey

Maggie Siff ’92 Will Deliver the Keynote Commencement Address at Bronx Science’s 96th Commencement Ceremony

The actress, praised for her work in successful television series such as ‘Billions’ and ‘Sons of Anarchy,’ returns to Bronx Science to give advice to this year’s graduates.
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Maggie Siff ’92 is praised for her acting in lead roles for several notable television series, including ‘Billions,’ ‘Sons of Anarchy,’ and ‘Mad Men.’ (Photo Credit: Bryce Duffy; Photo Provided by SUSKIN/KARSHAN MANAGEMENT; Used by permission of Maggie Siff)

Maggie Siff ’92 skipped her high school graduation.

As a dedicated member of the Bronx Science Speech & Debate team, she had advanced to the final round of a national tournament in Fargo, North Dakota. Although it conflicted with her own graduation ceremony, she decided to follow through with the competition instead of dropping out, flying back to New York, and walking across the stage with her classmates dressed in caps and gowns.

Now, more than thirty years later, the renowned actress is returning to attend her first Bronx Science graduation – not as a student, but as this year’s keynote speaker. This position is a tremendous honor, offered to one alumnus or alumna each year who has demonstrated great vision, tenacity, and success in their career.

“I’m thrilled to be coming back,” said Siff. “I can’t wait to look out into the sea of faces and remember what it was like to be where you [students are in life].”

The graduation ceremony will take place at the United Palace Theater in Washington Heights, known for its enormous size and beautiful ornamental architecture. This certainly won’t be the first time that Siff has spoken from a stage. Ever since she was a little girl growing up in the Bronx, Siff knew that she wanted to be a performer. She seriously considered going to LaGuardia High School to focus on the performing arts, but her mom encouraged her to attend Bronx Science instead, a decision that she did not regret.

“There’s so much time for that,” Siff remembered her mom advising, after she mentioned her dream of becoming an actor, “so prioritize getting a good education.” Siff followed this advice and explored new fields instead of concentrating on only one. Although she still loved theater, Siff realized that she was equally passionate about academic learning and discovery. “I was really excited by [Bronx Science] and the bigness of it, the chance to be in such an intellectually stimulating environment,” she said. It was this environment that would initially set her up for her future success.

After committing to Bronx Science, Siff began commuting forty minutes to school each day by public bus from the Riverdale neighborhood in the Bronx. Her friend would join on the bus ride a few stops after her, carrying a big bucket of fruit salad. “We would stand on the bus the whole way to school eating her fruit salad,” Siff stated simply. “And then we’d be there.” 

Amidst the exams and heavy workload, Speech & Debate became her creative outlet. Siff competed in several Speech categories including Duo and Oral Interpretation, but Dramatic Interpretation was her favorite because of its similarities to acting. “I was always looking for long monologues, for one character I could really sink into,” she reflected. 

Her stellar performance at competitions caught the attention of the drama coach at Regis High School, an all-boys Catholic school in Manhattan and one of Bronx Science’s top Speech & Debate rivals. They needed girls for their school play, so Siff agreed to help and commuted downtown after school to attend their rehearsals. 

Siff enjoyed these experiences and continued to participate in as many theater productions as she could when next attending Bryn Mawr College. In between rehearsing and performing school plays, she worked towards completing her degree in English. To her, majoring in English wasn’t a digression of interests but an enhancement, a chance to grow through studying a different, complementary form of storytelling. A few years later, she attended NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and completed an MFA in acting in 2004.

Since then, Siff’s career has spanned a diverse range of form and style, from small theater productions to major television shows. Most notably, she has played the lead roles of three prominent television series, acting as Wendy Rhoades in Billions, Rachel Katz in Mad Men, and Tara Knowles in Sons of Anarchy. She has also appeared in episodes of popular shows like Grey’s Anatomy and Law and Order, among several other series. 

Siff’s lead roles each present unique character traits and backstories for her to explore, ranging from a strong-willed and manipulative psychiatrist to a wealthy department store heiress, liberally interspersed with romantic drama, murder, or betrayal. However, some have traced a common theme of strength and female empowerment throughout these several distinct shows

“[My roles] tend to be – for whatever reason – women who stand up in masculine environments,” Siff observed. “I enjoy it, although I don’t know why I have found myself there.”

Nevertheless, her outstanding performances have led her to twice be nominated for the Critics’ Choice Television Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series, as well as winning the Barrymore Award for Excellence in Theater and receiving nominations for Satellite Awards, Screen Actors Guild Awards, and Gold Derby Awards.

As a mother of a ten-year-old daughter, Siff appreciates the stability of long-form television roles, while also acknowledging the challenges of sustaining a character for several years. Shorter jobs can be a refreshing contrast, such as playing the part of Lady last summer in Orpheus Descending by Tennessee Williams.

Set at a dry goods store in a small town in the deep South, Orpheus Descending addresses imposing themes such as racism, narrow-mindedness, and discovering purpose in life. The plot draws inspiration from the Greek myth where Orpheus, a skilled musician, journeys to the underworld to rescue his wife Eurydice. He fails, and Lady – who represents Eurydice – also meets a tragic fate.

Siff felt drawn to the beauty and honesty of Tennessee Williams’s work. “It’s a rarely produced play, and an impossibly beautiful, larger than life character. Getting to play [Lady] was, for me, one of my personal highlights.”

Siff is still close with her high school friends from Bronx Science, half of whom became lawyers and half of whom became performers. “I always thought that was really interesting, coming out of Bronx Science,” Siff said. “The education that we got really gave us all the opportunity to go in whatever direction we wanted to.” (Photo credit: Mark Seliger/SHOWTIME; Used by permission)

Siff is naturally interested in the complexities and nuances of life. It’s the reason why she gave herself a balanced education in high school and college instead of hyperfocusing on acting, and a necessary trait in order to fully envelope any character that she plays. When Siff delivers her speech to the Bronx Science Class of 2024 at the 96th Commencement Ceremony on Wednesday, June 26, 2024, at The United Palace Theater, she plans to expand on this mindset by encouraging students to explore a variety of interests.

“What I remember from Bronx Science is a very deep urge to achieve,” reflected Siff. “It’s really propulsive, it moves you forward in the world, and it’s amazing. But I think that energy can work against a deeper curiosity in people.”

Siff hopes that Bronx Science graduates will not be limited by perfectionism and trapped to a narrow path in life. Instead, she hopes that they will embrace the school’s current motto: Inquire. Discover. Create. From her time as a high schooler to her current career, Maggie Siff serves as a model of these values and as an inspiration to others.

UPDATE: Click HERE to watch the video of Bronx Science’s 96th Commencement Ceremony at The United Palace Theater, which was held on Wednesday, June 26th, 2024, including the speech given by Bronx Science’s Keynote Address Commencement Speaker, Maggie Siff ’92. Siff’s speech starts at 24:30.

“I’m thrilled to be coming back,” said Maggie Siff ’92. “I can’t wait to look out into the sea of faces and remember what it was like to be where you [students are in life].”

 

About the Contributor
Anna Koontz, Staff Reporter
Anna Koontz is a Copy Chief and Social Media Editor for ‘The Science Survey.’ She loves the variety of perspectives in journalistic writing. She also appreciates the beauty of capturing moments through photography. A single photo can have so much to offer, with nuances in composition, subject, and meaning. In her free time, Anna plays viola and helps to maintain her school's garden. She especially enjoys reading, writing, and spending time with her family. Anna is unsure of what she wants to study in college, but hopes to continue writing no matter where life takes her.