For many students in the Georgetown University Class of 2015, the year’s upcoming commencement ceremonies will reflect an incredible life steppingstone, serving as the culmination of their undergraduate experiences. For College Senior Associate Dean Anne Sullivan, however, the upcoming commencements will mark a different milestone: her retirement, coming after a dedicated 43-year career in the Georgetown College Office of the Dean that has left a tremendous impact on the university and its students.
Previously, Sullivan served as assistant to the dean, assistant dean and associate dean before assuming her current role as senior associate dean, advising students majoring in government and theology, as well as women’s and gender studies, whose major and minor programs she helped create and design.
Additionally, Sullivan has taught several English classes and “Introduction to Women’s Studies,” both on Georgetown’s main campus and at Villa Le Balze in Florence, and has tutored with the Georgetown Community Scholars program.
“She’s made a remarkable contribution to Georgetown, and it’s one of longevity,” College Dean Chester Gillis said. “She’s not merely an administrator — she’s an intellectual, and one thing that will leave when Anne Sullivan leaves is a lot of wisdom.”
A Decade-Spanning Career
Sullivan, who received a Bachelor of Arts from Radcliffe College and an master’s in teaching from Harvard University, originally intended to become a high school English teacher. She arrived at Georgetown in 1971 after briefly serving in the Teacher Corps, a Great Society development program that aimed to improve teaching in low-income school districts.
Her first position at Georgetown was as a recorder, with responsibilities including sorting through academic transcripts and course catalogs to ensure that College seniors met the university’s graduation requirements.
The handwritten systems of Sullivan’s recording days have since been phased out by newer, more efficient record systems — transformations that she has largely overseen during her time in the dean’s office. For years, Sullivan has focused her administrative work on improving, updating and maintaining the university’s student record systems, including Georgetown’s MyDegree audit tool.
She credits her coworkers for filling her years with vibrancy.
“I have always enjoyed my colleagues and the humor they bring to the office environment. The way you get through a lot of dull work is that you laugh and have fun with it, and then you get it done,” Sullivan said.
A Legacy of Living for Others
Sullivan’s legacy, however, stems from her years of mentorship. Her colleagues and those she has mentored said her service has been defined by dedication to her students.
“I’ve always loved working with students,” Sullivan said. “They’ve delighted me. They’ve driven me crazy. And they’re always different, one from another.”
One of those students is Kimberly Blair (COL ’15), who said that Sullivan was there to guide her when a family health condition put a strain on her Georgetown studies.
“My mom and I both have endometriosis [a painful condition characterized by abnormal tissue growth],” Blair said. “It’s been stressful on my academics, because I worry about my mom. I always work a lot in case I need to take a random flight back to her if she’s really sick.”
When Blair did not have enough money to fly home when her mother needed surgery, Sullivan helped produce the funds necessary for the flight. Later, when Blair needed surgery herself, Sullivan was there again, providing comfort while ensuring that she would still graduate on time.
“Out of everyone I have met at Georgetown, Dean Sullivan has been the one who has helped me the most,” Blair said.
It is a sentiment shared by Bryan Mendiola (COL ’15), another student who said his life was touched by Sullivan’s dedication. When he arrived as a freshman in 2011, Mendiola originally planned on becoming a doctor. A year later, he met Sullivan, after realizing a career in medicine was not his passion.
“Here I was, a biology major one class away from meeting my pre-med requirements and head of the Georgetown Pre-Medical Society, and I didn’t want to be a doctor anymore,” Mendiola said. “And I walked into the dean’s office one day and I told the receptionist I just needed to talk to anyone, because I had no idea what I was doing.”
He ended up speaking with Sullivan, who grew to become a trusted adviser during his time at Georgetown. Mendiola will now graduate this year and receive his degree in political economy — something he largely credits to Sullivan.
Helping students like Mendiola and Blair is what Sullivan regards as the most fulfilling aspect of her career at Georgetown. She found a calling in helping what she said were “ambitious students who just need some guidance to find their footing.”
Gillis said Sullivan was an effective mentor who provided useful guidance for students.
“Anne gives you what you need when you need it. On one hand, she might say to a student, ‘You poor thing, I want to help you,’ and in their next meeting she may say, ‘Get over yourself,’” Gillis said.
“She was like a caring mom and a strict mom,” Blair said. “With her, there was always a plan of action. First she’d be the caring mom and give me her words of compassion, and then she’d be the strict mom and get down to business and say, ‘Now what can we do? How can we make this thing happen?’”
Sullivan’s first plans for retirement include traveling to Luca, Italy, where she and her husband will spend three months this fall.