ISTP students blossom into unique individuals who set their sights high. In the case of Ahna O’Reilly, her sights landed among the stars. Ahna, a French Program alumna, is a gifted and dedicated artist who has acted in several acclaimed films. In 2011, Ahna played Elizabeth Leefolt in the award-winning film The Help. In 2013, Ahna worked on nine projects, including the highly acclaimed films Fruitvale Station, Jobs, and an adaptation of As I Lay Dying.
It was only fitting, then, that ISTP selected Ahna as the recipient of the first annual Rising Star award. This award honors alumni who have made significant contributions to his or her chosen profession, while showing dedication to giving back to their community.
Her fond memories of ISTP, as well as her appreciation for what her bilingual education has done for her, have resonated with her on a personal level. Her love of her first school shows through via one simple gesture: her ISTP Rising Star award sits next to the SAG award she won for her role in The Help.
For Ahna, ISTP was an ideal learning environment that helped foster her creativity. After reflecting on her time at ISTP, she says she is “a true believer in bilingualism,” and that she hopes to send her future children to ISTP when the time comes. She feels that “because of my bilingual education, I have an easier time as an actor with dialects- my ear is trained differently.” Her time at school has touched her life and her career in a way that continues to influence her hopes for future projects: “I hope someday to work in French cinema, which of course would be much harder to do if I didn’t speak French.”
A true dreamer, Ahna has always envisioned creative ways in which she could connect with the world around her and impact her surroundings. Her former teacher, Barbara Greiner, could recognize a creative gift in Ahna from an early age, saying “when she was supposed to write essays, she always baffled me with her creativity, vocabulary and how interesting her stories were.”
In her acting career, she has been mindful to participate in projects that are meaningful and have an important story to tell. Ahna connects her ability to render a character into a living, breathing human being to her time at ISTP. She deeply values her unique education, saying “I was exposed to other cultures from a very early age, and I think it helped me develop a capacity for openness- openness to otherness.”
This sense of compassion and understanding that she possesses in her film career speaks to her sense of philanthropy. Ahna works with a number of organizations geared toward representing and benefitting children, such as UNICEF Next Generation and Planned Parenthood. One Los Angeles organization she works closely with, called Art of Elysium, brings the arts to children in hospitals, and may soon open a Palo Alto chapter. Through her involvement with such a diverse range of projects, Ahna has found an avenue where she channels her abilities and experiences in such a way that she feels she’s making an impact.
Ahna made the choice to make an impact at ISTP when the opportunity presented itself. When ISTP formally solicited our alumni base for the first time this year, she unhesitantly responded with a donation to the Annual Fund. Ahna holds dear the experiences and opportunities she has been afforded by her education, saying “I feel strongly about giving back to the schools that gave so much to me. I have been immensely blessed to have had such an outstanding education, and it is a small way of giving thanks.”
As the school’s alumni continue to grow in their professional pursuits, the community has had the privilege of seeing the diverse ways in which they choose to give back to their first school. In Ahna’s case, she chose to join those who give to the school’s most important fundraiser, the Annual Fund. Ahna’s gift is an example of the meaning that often lies behind the simple act of giving. Ahna’s contribution will touch the lives of young students who are experiencing their bilingual education in a different place and time than she experienced hers. However, her gift, like every contribution to the Annual Fund, will play a part in continuing ISTP’s legacy of imbuing students not only with exceptional language ability, but “an openness to otherness” as well.