Name: Lorna Jennings
TCD Qualifications: M.A. History and Political Science (2005)
About: Newly appointed Managing Director at Keating & Associates, and new President of Dublin University Women’s Graduate(DUWGA)
What do you remember most about your time in Trinity?
The fun times I had with my friends and the way Trinity opened my mind to a whole new world. I made some of my best friends in Trinity, many of whom continue to be a huge part of my life. My memories of the great times we had, whether it was hanging around the Arts Block on endless coffee breaks between studying in the Berkeley, or getting all dolled up for the Trinity Ball (where two of my very good friends, who are now married, first met in our final year), are truly precious to me.
Trinity had a massive impact on my life. I grew up in California and although I came home most summers, I had never really decided where I wanted to build my life until I came to Ireland for college. I vividly remember the thrill I had of walking through the Front Gate for the first time, when the realisation that 'I get to go to school in this beautiful place!' hit me. My time in Trinity was an absolute privilege and that thrill of excitement at having a connection to it has never left me.
In another sense though, Trinity taught me how to think: how to question, analyze, research, form an opinion and defend that perspective. These are all skills that have served me well in everything I have done since. Being surrounded by so many clever and curious people from so many different walks of life expanded my horizons and ambitions beyond what I'd previously thought possible.
Tell us why you got involved with Dublin University Women’s Graduate(DUWGA) and what your ambitions are for your Presidency?
I got involved with Trinity's women alumni group DUWGA (Dublin University Women Graduates Association) because I felt like I wanted to keep up my connection to Trinity and thought it might be an interesting experience. DUWGA was established in 1922 to enable women graduates keep in touch with Trinity, with each other, and with women graduates all over the world. We organise a variety of cultural events and lectures with guest speakers (as part of our Career Series) throughout the year. We support the Trinity Access Programme (TAP) with an annual bursary, operate a Bursary Fund which provides a small grant to a number of women graduates, and organise a national public speaking competition for girls under 15. DUWGA is also a member of National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI).
I can say for my part, I have thoroughly enjoyed my time on the committee, and I have worked with too many fascinating and inspiring women to count. I came home for good because of the opportunities and the experiences that Trinity gave me. To have the opportunity to, in some small way, give something back by picking up from the dozens of women who held the position before me, to carry on the rich legacy they left, is something very special.
Over the next two years my aim is to build on the enormous legacy of the Association - while also reaching out, growing our membership and building relationships to make the Association more open and accessible. By this I mean that my aim for my time as President is to celebrate and encourage the achievements of women in Trinity, not simply because they deserve to be celebrated, but as opportunities to reconnect with existing members and to attract new ones, to reach out to those women who can find in DUWGA, as I have found, mentors, inspirations and friends.
Next year mark's the Association's 95th Anniversary. DUWGA's first president was Lucy Gwynn, who was also the first woman Registrar of Trinity College. The Lucy Gwynn Prize, worth more than €1,200, continues to be awarded in her memory by Trinity College every year to a Junior Sophister woman student for distinction in her course. This is the kind of story that inspires my thinking about the year ahead. Lucy Gwynn, and what she meant to Trinity, is remembered every year; but it is not some dry sort of commemoration, it is something far more important. It is a celebration of the achievements of a young woman student, an award, a recognition of her efforts in memory of a woman who lit the way for so many others.
So my aim is to do something special to celebrate our anniversary, to remember all of the Lucy Gwynns. Who is to say we can’t mark the anniversary by recruiting 95 new members for our 95 years, or by marking the achievements of 95 Trinity women who have made enormous contributions in their fields, women who can inspire the next generation of graduates? Maybe this is the year we retrieve these names from the record books and tell the stories of the lives they lived, the challenges they overcame and the country that they shaped.
What inspired you to work in Public Relations?
I think I ended up in PR because I have always been on the hunt for new challenges. After I graduated, I tried out a couple of the other careers and briefly worked in accounting and in marketing. These were useful experiences because they weren't the right fit for me. Doing something to which I wasn't suited helped me appreciate what a privilege it was to find something I loved to do for a living. It's also a good reminder that sometimes you have to make mistakes to get to the right place.
I'd always been interested in politics and current affairs, and when an opportunity to work in Leinster House arose after my ill-fated foray into accounting, I grabbed it with both hands. Since then it has been an exciting journey but I've never doubted this is the right path for me. I love getting right to the heart of an issue and that's the essence of working in communications.
Most of my day is spent distilling large bodies of information down to the essential facts. The impact the right (or wrong) message can have, the power of the right words or argument to change minds, fascinates me.
What excites you most about your new position as MD?
The possibilities that the future holds. I am very lucky to have a supportive team, and a founder who has given me the opportunity to drive on. It is an exciting time to be in PR and public affairs, and I'm fortunate to be in a firm that has a rich tradition and reputation as one of Ireland’s leading corporate communications consultancies. Throughout my career I have worked with phenomenal people, who've been generous mentors, and I wouldn't be in the position I am now if I hadn't had that support along the way. I hope to contribute in whatever way I can, to helping the young women and men who are coming through behind me to have the confidence to get stuck in and go for it.
What has been your biggest challenge professionally?
It was moving back to Ireland after spending a year in California when I finished college to try and break into PR and public affairs. Taking that leap, into relatively unknown territories, was a big risk at the time, particularly as I had opportunities in the US which I chose not to pursue. I subscribe to the adage 'what's for you won't pass you by' and the way things fell into place and stars aligned when I came back confirmed that for me there may have been an element of fate involved in how it all worked out.
Who is your role model?
One of the things I've enjoyed the most through my time in Trinity and my involvement with DUWGA has been meeting the multitude of wonderful role models from every generation, who are blazing trails in all walks of Irish society.
For a conference last October we had a panel of women, including Mary Harney (Director, former politician and first female Tanaiste and leader of a political party), Deirdre McQuillan (Irish Times Fashion Editor), Ivana Bacik (Senator, Barrister and Trinity Academic), Aoife McLysaght (Geneticist at Trinity College Dublin) and Niamh Gallagher (Co-founder of Women for Election) talk about who inspired them over the years. It so happened that the panel crossed the generations - with a graduate from the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and 00s. To see that chain of innovators, changemakers and leaders continuing down through the years fills me full of hope for the future. I feel fortunate that DUWGA has brought me in contact with these amazing women. I take inspiration from their examples and try and follow their lead.
Why is it important for alumni to stay connected with the University and each other?
I had such a wonderful experience in Trinity and have many fond memories of my time, that maintaining links with college is something I really value from a personal perspective. Professionally, the alumni affinity groups such as the Trinity Business Alumni, and the women's alumni group are exceedingly useful, through networking events, seminars, and mentoring opportunities. The community of people who have a connection to Trinity are some of the best and the brightest that Ireland has to offer, and I think it’s very important to celebrate and foster those networks.
What is the most useful piece of advice you’ve ever received?
You'll always regret not doing something more than you'll regret doing it - so get out there and go for it. Also, if you don't ask for something, you won't get it, so don't be shy - something I think is especially relevant for women.