Amazing Alumnae Share Severn Memories and Stories of Success
On March 8th, in celebration of International Women's Day, we welcomed three Severn alumnae to speak with our community about their exceptional lives. They shared memories from their years at Severn along with stories of perseverance and strength, through which they have climbed to the top of their fields today. Our values of character, conduct, scholarship and leadership took shape in their voices as we learned about the paths they’ve forged since leaving Water Street.
Our Amazing Alumnae panelists represent a spectrum of experience and professional accomplishments. To kick off the event, director of alumni relations Carrie MacVean Grimes ‘91 introduced each alumna to the eager crowd of Upper School students, faculty and staff.
Kate Orff ‘89 is the founder of SCAPE, a landscape architecture and urban design studio based in New York City. Kate and her team work to integrate natural systems into environments across all scales, from urban pocket-parks to the regional ecological planning, with the ultimate goal of connecting people to their immediate environment. Kate was awarded the MacArthur Foundation ‘Genius’ Grant in 2017, the first given in the field of landscape architecture. Kate is also the director of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture’s Urban Design Program.
Wendy Jones ‘83 is the senior vice president for global operations at eBay, where she has worked in various executive leadership positions since 2003. She has focused much of her career on growing eBay’s global presence. She has worked in Europe, Canada and the U.S., and led geographical expansion efforts launching eBay into markets in Brazil, Russia, and Mexico while spearheading eBay’s cross-border trade efforts.
Cathy Merrill Williams ‘87 worked in management consulting and corporate leadership before becoming the CEO and president of Washingtonian Media in 2007. Cathy is a member and former chapter chair of YPO (Young President’s Organization) as well as an active member of the Cornell University Council, the Economics Club of Washington and the Federal City Council.
Reflections from the Past
During the hour-long Q&A session, the panel explored a range of topics from the role of technology in our lives and the evolution of women’s experience in the professional sphere to the impact of climate change on our local and global environment. While each woman shared a different perspective, they all talked about Severn's impact on their lives through college and into their respective industries.
“At Severn I was a pretty good athlete, but I wasn’t as great of a student. At the end of my senior year, my AP calculus teacher Ms. Hruska wrote in my yearbook, ‘Quadratic equations do work out. Apply yourself to solving them just like you apply yourself to athletics and you’re going to be incredibly successful.’ That message is something that I constantly come back to in my professional career. I know it’s necessary to prepare and build skills and capabilities that I wouldn’t have otherwise.” — Wendy Jones ‘83
“When I was at Severn, I really wanted to be a varsity athlete, but I wasn't that good. I knew I couldn’t get there by skill. So I thought to myself ‘I am going to work really hard for this. I’m going to get there early, set things up, do everything I can to help and stay late.’ By doing all of that extra work, I made the team and even won the Team Players Award. That lesson has followed me through life...you can get ahead if you work harder than everyone else.” — Cathy Merrill Williams ‘87
“The foundational idea that I took away from Severn is how to work with your peers and be a leader at the same time. I was voted captain of the lacrosse team as a junior and while that sounds like a minor thing, that experience has shaped my leadership process through the arc of my life. Everything I do at SCAPE and at Columbia is about mobilizing people, organizing around a goal, communicating and helping others do their best.” — Kate Orff ‘89
The panel also took student questions from the audience. Students asked about the lack of diversity in tech, what life was like at Severn for boys compared to girls, and perceptions of gender differences in leadership and positions of authority. Wendy closed the student Q&A portion of their presentation with thoughtful and timeless advice, “Whatever your position and wherever you go, my best advice is to be authentically you. Be proud of who you are and your own leadership style. That will take you far.”
Making Connections Today
Following the formal discussion, Kate, Cathy and Wendy led smaller group workshops with Upper School students to dive deeper into their areas of expertise.
To Our Amazing Alumnae, Thank You
We are grateful to these three amazing women for sharing their time with our current students and faculty. We are proud of their achievements since leaving Severn — they truly embody the words in our mission. We hope they continue to keep strong ties with our school and students for years to come. Once an Admiral, always an Admiral.