I took my first flight at the age of 17.
We couldn’t afford the plane ticket from Boston to upstate New York, but somehow my mom, a first-grade teacher and single parent of three, managed to scrape together the money. I almost didn’t get on the plane because I thought there was no chance I’d be accepted to a top university like Cornell. My inner voice urged me to lean back and stay close to home. Instead, with my mother’s support, I leaned in to that interview with hope, optimism and just a bit of terror, and made the case for why Cornell should take a chance on me.
Imagine my surprise when I learned that Cornell had not only accepted me, they had also granted me financial aid. I was ecstatic.
Once I arrived at the university, I was so terrified of failing that I leaned in to my studies and made the dean’s list in my freshman year. It boosted my confidence and fueled my passion to go after every experience I possibly could. My mother was by my side the entire time, cheering me on and reminding me that education was my ticket to a brighter future.
After earning my degree, I launched a career that has since included 17 relocations and spanned several industries; I’ve overcome biases and taken many risks. Some have worked out, some haven’t, but I’ve learned that no matter what challenges are thrown my way, it’s how I choose to respond that truly matters.
My mother, the champion of my education, passed away from cancer at age 58. I think she would be proud to know that I work to solve complex issues involving the economy, jobs, the environment and global competitiveness. I’m honored to serve on task forces with the administration and thought leaders in Washington, D.C., and to help people match their skills with jobs.
Now that I’m a mother to my own daughter, I hope she’ll stand strong in college and lean in completely if someone tells her something can’t be done. As I like to remind her, “If you’re not on the edge of terror a little bit each day, you’re not growing.”