Actor Annabeth Gish's career began at age 8, when she performed in local theater in her hometown of Cedar Falls, Iowa. Now, the 1993 Duke graduate is well-known for playing diverse film and TV roles.

She was just 17 when she was cast with Julia Roberts in "Mystic Pizza," a coming-of-age film set in a Mystic, Conn., pizza parlor. She played special agent Monica Reyes in the last two seasons of "The X-Files." She's also made guest appearances on "The West Wing", "CSI-Miami" and "Chicago Hope".

"(Acting) takes so much fortitude because skill doesn't guarantee success at all," Gish said. "But if you have something inside of you that is so determined to get there, that's how you're going to get there."

Gish took a break from her acting career to attend Duke, graduating with an English major, a minor in women's studies and cum laude honors. In a 1999 visit to Duke, Gish said she continues to do a lot of creative writing, often exploring a role by writing in a journal as that character.

"Although education has always been an established priority in my family, it was completely my choice to make: Follow the momentum of my dream profession (which is rare and rather elusive), or dedicate the time to be rigorous and disciplined in the act of study and the task of broadening the mind," she said.

"I chose the latter option, and Duke and I chose each other," she added. "It was one of the best decisions I have ever made and has served me in every capacity as both an artist and a woman."

As a student, Gish loved studying and spent many hours at the library. She joined a sorority and focused her energies on the drama program, film studies and women's studies.

"I wove in and out of a variety of groups, which gave me many different perspectives and opportunities for self-discovery," she said.

Gish finds inspiration in singer/songwriter Sarah McLaughlin "in the way she blends her passion with her politics and moves women (and men) into places of greater knowing -- in the realm of the intimate and in the realm of the collective."

When asked what one piece of advice she would give to first-year women at Duke, Gish said, "Saturate yourself in the knowledge available to you throughout the buildings, books and minds of those who make up Duke University."