South Orangetown Central School District

Dr. Dana Stilley

#ProudTZGrad Dana Stilley, PhD (‘78) spoke with third grade classes at Cottage Lane Elementary School yesterday about growing up in South Orangetown and her path to becoming a member of the District’s Board of Education and the first African American woman elected to the Rockland County Legislature.

“Our Character Education theme of the month is ‘Communities Support and Inspire Each Other.’ We have learned from various individuals in Black History who inspired us,” explained CLE English as a New Language teacher Valery Gabriel. “As we launch our character studies reading unit, in which we will study characters, their traits, motivation and challenges, we thought it would be great to have a special guest for Black History Month. Dr. Stilley was a fitting choice since she is an alumna and has accomplished so much. After her visit, our students will refer back to what she shared about her own life to describe her character traits.”

Stilley, who was born and raised in Piermont, credited a longtime Tappan Zee High School teacher as a source of personal inspiration. “When I was in high school, there was an African American teacher, Dr. Clarence Branch, who was also a member of my church,” she said. “I was never in his class, but he would always say to me, ‘When are you going to get your degree? You can do it. You need to do it.’”

When asked about the challenges she faced, Stilley recalled, “When I was a senior, Dr. Branch was telling me to apply to Ivy League colleges. But I also had people telling me that I wouldn’t get in. So that lit a fire and made me really think. I knew I would have to devote serious time to write the very best essay and make sure that my application was submitted by the deadline. The best way to overcome a challenge is to self-reflect on what you can do to overcome it. You don’t always overcome your challenges, but it’s important to keep trying.”

From TZHS, Stilley went on to graduate from Brown University with a Bachelor of Science in Applied Mathematics and Economics, Columbia University with an Master of Business Administration in Finance and Management Science and Old Dominion Union University with a Doctor of Philosophy in Community College Leadership.

She spoke about her current roles as a County legislator and school board member, her careers in finance and higher education and her passion for public service. Stilley encouraged students to seek out challenges, discover their own strengths and weaknesses and to focus on the things that they love. Most of all, she urged them to build friendships.

“Surround yourself with many different kinds of friends,” she advised. “When I was in school, I had friends that I went to church with, friends that I played clarinet or sang chorus with, friends who were in the plays with me and friends who liked math. All of us have something important to offer. Doing things you haven’t done before takes courage, so it is important for you to be courageous. Rely on your friends and family to help give you courage.”