U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman has spent much of her career working at the highest levels of government and breaking a few glass ceilings along the way.
Through all the demands in her roles, there are a few constants that never change: her devotion to family, her passion for empowering today’s youth and tomorrow’s leaders, her belief in equality and fairness, and her and her husband’s tradition of ending each week with a slice of pizza on Friday nights.
Those are just a sampling of the many facets within the distinguished life and career of this year’s Commencement speaker. In the following Q&A with the Deputy Secretary, she shares her family’s passion for doing what’s right, her groundbreaking journey into politics, and her devotion to developing the next generation of leaders in our country and abroad.
Q: How did your childhood and young adult experiences play a role in shaping you into who you are today?
A: I learned the meaning of courage early on from my parents, who were willing to sacrifice our family’s economic stability in the name of civil rights.
My father was a real estate broker, and starting in 1963, his office announced that it would sell to all individuals, regardless of race or creed. He and my mother knew that decision might lead to financial ruin, and it did—the company lost more than 60 percent of its listings.
But that never mattered to my folks. They did what was right because they understood that real change often comes at a price. That is a lesson I’ve tried to carry with me in every role throughout my life.
Q: What is your proudest accomplishment?
A: My family—my marriage, my husband, my daughter, and grandsons. Nothing else compares.
Q: Did you always want to pursue a career in politics?
A: Yes. I was trained as a social worker and community organizer but maintained a deep interest in public policy at every turn. I always viewed politics as an avenue to change and improve lives. When I had an opportunity to enter public life, I jumped at the chance to serve, and I’ve been doing that ever since.
“Everywhere I travel, at home and abroad, I make a point of meeting with students. Because they represent our future, and we need to understand their hopes and dreams if we’re going to be effective diplomats.”
– U.S. Deputy Secretary Wendy Sherman
Q: What’s something that not many people know about you?
A: My visit to Gettysburg comes 30 years to the day after I began my first tour with the State Department as Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs. Since then, I’ve served three Presidents and five Secretaries of State, and become the first woman Under Secretary for Political Affairs and the first woman Deputy Secretary of State.
Q: What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
A: I barely have any these days. But there’s one tradition that never fails: every Friday night, my husband and I end the week with pizza and wine for dinner. Beyond that, I’m just looking forward to finding ways to fill any free time whenever I reach retirement.
Q: What are you most passionate about?
A: Leadership among young people—empowering the next generation to take the reins of our policies and politics and seeing what they do next.
In my office at the State Department, I keep a tote bag given to me by a group of young people in the Philippines. It says, “Never Too Young to Lead.”
Everywhere I travel, at home and abroad, I make a point of meeting with students. Because they represent our future, we need to understand their hopes and dreams if we’re going to be effective diplomats.
Q: What was the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
A: Don’t feel wedded to a five-year plan. You might miss incredible opportunities along the way.
This year’s Commencement Exercises will take place rain or shine on Saturday, May 13, beginning at 11 a.m. on the Beachem Portico on the north side of Pennsylvania Hall. For more information about Commencement for the Class of 2023, please visit the Commencement website.
By Corey Jewart
Photos courtesy of the U.S. Department of State