Jennifer Howell ’96, founder of the Los Angeles–based nonprofit organization The Art of Elysium, received the 2012 Walter Littlefield Distinguished Speaker in Rhetoric and Communication Award on April 2. The award, inspired by the career of former longtime Emerson faculty member Walter “Walt” Littlefield, honors alumni who have made a positive difference in the lives of others.
Howell has dedicated more than 15 years to assisting children who are battling serious medical conditions. Her organization bridges the gap between the artistic community and hospitalized children by bringing actors, writers, musicians, comedians, filmmakers, and other artists to hospitals to facilitate workshops that take patients’ minds off their circumstances and give them an outlet to express themselves. She has worked with celebrities and artists, including Ryan Seacrest, Elijah Wood, Kirsten Dunst, Eva Mendes, Ben Affleck, and Melissa Etheridge.
“Coming back here is really like coming back to the roots of The Art of Elysium,” Howell said to a packed house of students, faculty, and staff during her campus visit. “I learned more about myself at Emerson than at any other point in my life.”
Howell explained that she attended Emerson because of her love of the arts and planned to become a filmmaker. Life intervened, though, when shortly after she graduated, a good friend from high school died from leukemia. She was inspired to start an organization that would help seriously ill people cope with their conditions. She combined her passion for the arts with her desire to help people, and The Art of Elysium was born.
Howell advised students to be open to finding a path in life that they might not have initially planned. “Whatever you think your life is going to be, it will be so much better if you let it go where it takes you,” she said, even if it’s seemingly off path.
Communication Studies Department Chair Richard West, who introduced Howell, said, “Jennifer decided she wanted to make a difference by being determined, empathic, and other-centered.” He noted that “not only has she been a hero to scores of young people,” but has also been their “guardian angel.”
During her visit, Howell also attended a Social Advocacy, Grassroots Organizing, and Communication course taught by Malia Lazu ’99, a past recipient of the Littlefield Award.
The Walt Littlefield Distinguished Speaker event was one of the many activities that were a part of Communication Week 2012.