Many Gettysburgians know Lauren W. Bright ’90 for her 16-plus years with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, now serving as the general counsel and director of its Washington, D.C., office. In this critical role, she oversees the foundation’s legal department and a broad range of legal, regulatory, and policy matters impacting it.
But beyond her successful career, Bright wears many hats. She’s also a wife, a mother of two, and a proud Gettysburg College alumna—serving on the College’s Board of Trustees.
Get to know Bright, the Commencement speaker for the Class of 2020. In this casual Q&A conversation, she shares her Gettysburg College favorites, the best piece of advice she’s ever received, what she’s most passionate about, and more.
Q: Why did you choose Gettysburg College?
A: I didn’t know much about Gettysburg, at first, but my parents convinced me to take a closer look at the brochures that I was receiving in the mail. As you can imagine, once I arrived on campus, Darryl Jones in the Admissions Office was a heavy influence. I quickly learned that the College had a lot to offer inside and outside of the classroom. There was something about the environment that fit what I thought the college experience would be like. It just felt right.
Q: What’s your favorite Servo cookie?
A: Peanut butter cookies and the ice cream from Servo. Mmm, it doesn’t get better than that!
Q: Who was your mentor at Gettysburg, and how did they make an impact in your life?
A: That’s a tough question. There were so many. Julie Ramsey (retired Vice President for College Life and Dean of Students) was a big influence on me when I was transitioning to life on campus. Kermit Finstad (Prof. Emeritus of Music) and Emile Schmidt (Prof. Emeritus and founder of the College’s Department of Theatre Arts), also helped me find my voice at Gettysburg. That confidence helped me throughout my experience—personally and academically. After Gettysburg, an unexpected but significant influence on my life, and a person I actually never had the pleasure of having in the classroom, has been Dr. Shirley Anne Warshaw (Emeritus Prof. of Political Science and former Director of the Fielding Center for Presidential Leadership Study). What she modeled as a woman and a historian, with respect to power, poise, and presence, was invaluable, especially at the beginning of my career. I wouldn’t be where I am today without all of them.
Q: What did you dream of being when you were younger?
A: A pediatric cardiologist. I never lost the interest in helping others, but medical school was not my calling.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
A: Trust yourself. You don’t have to be, model, or emulate anyone else. You can find success using the strengths that you have. Don’t doubt yourself. There are enough people that will do that for you. You have to trust who you are.
Q: What’s your favorite Gettysburg College memory?
A: Nice try, but that I’m not going to share. I will say there’s not much that beats life on the third floor of Stevens Hall as a freshman, where I met my best friends—women who are still in my life today. My whole freshman year was special—the good days and the tough ones—every memory and everything we built together.
Q: What are you most passionate about?
A: Those closest to me would tell you theatre and the arts, which is true. But, I am truly passionate about family and education. I have been blessed with the support of an incredible family, those related to me as well as those in my extended family that grew from college into adulthood. I have also been fortunate, with respect to education. Education is everything. Advocating for education policy is why I went to law school and it is why I continue to give back to Gettysburg. We still have work to do, but Gettysburg College is a place where people from different backgrounds and different perspectives can share a classroom, an assignment, or an activity and learn something new—including something about themselves. When students get here, I want them to believe they belong here, claim the space they need to thrive here, and, most importantly, stay here. Get everything they can from what is offered and use the tools acquired to make the changes that they want to see in the world. If I can help to create an environment at Gettysburg College that supports others in the way that I have been supported, whether they are my bloodline or not, that’s what I’m passionate about.
Q: What’s something that not many people know about you?
A: I am obsessed with the Olympics! I love the competition, the personal stories, the events that I know, and the events that I know nothing about but learn to love. Winter, summer—it doesn’t matter. I have not yet been in person, but I hope to one day!
Q: Where do you see yourself in five to 10 years?
A: Co-hosting a national talk show with an old classmate, Carson Kressley ’91. Hmm, I suppose that I should have first mentioned this to Carson. Guess he knows now!
Commencement for the Class of 2020 will take place at 11 a.m. on Sunday, September 26—rain or shine—on the Beachem Portico, the north side of Pennsylvania Hall. For more information about Commencement for the Class of 2020, please refer to the Commencement website. It will be updated frequently in the weeks leading up to the ceremony.
By Molly Foster
Photos by Shawna Sherrell and Miranda Harple