My Maxwell Hero: Donna Shalala

Friday afternoon alumni, administrators, and students packed to Maxwell auditorium to listen to Donna Shalala, the president of the Clinton Foundation, longest-serving United States Secretary of Health and Human Services, and  former chancellor/president of three universities, speak on “Ethical Leadership in Higher Education”.

It was inspiring to have a woman who has achieved so much across sectors come and speak to us. Governance and higher education has long been a ‘boys-only club’ but leaders like Shalala are paving the way, and by doing so bringing their fields to new summits of success. 

Shalala was introduced as ‘a force of nature’, and as she spoke it quickly became evident why. She spoke candidly and confidently. She did not shy away from discussing the ‘hard topics’ like gender and diversity. Her knowledge and analysis of governance, leadership, and higher education was evident in her answers. Here are some points from her talk:

  • A Liberal Arts degree is still the most valuable pre-graduate degree.
  • Diversity means ‘doing things differently’, not just the diversity of  student and staff populations. Support systems should reflect cultures and curriculum should not be ethnocentric.
  • The first responsibility of a University is to be a world-class institution.
  • Life is an adventure. Complex and difficult jobs are where we can make a difference.

I left feeling inspired for my own future and thankful for the opportunity to listen to such an amazing speaker here at Maxwell. The true value of the Maxwell degree is the sum of the classroom experiences, opportunities outside the classroom, interaction with peers and professors, and belonging to a network of alumni with the likes of Donna Shalala.