How Perseverance Led to Success: A Conversation with Margaret Spellings, former Secretary of Education

On June 14th and 15th, 2013, Colorado Technical University held its graduation ceremony in Denver, Colorado. The event drew nearly 600 graduates from around the world, as well as nationally recognized speakers, including former Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, who sat down with us after her presentation to share more about herself and her career path.

Former US Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings, CTU Graduation SpeakerWhen you were in college, what did you aspire to do professionally?

I was interested in politics so I pursued a degree in political science. I also received a degree in journalism. Of course, back then I never imaged that education would become my calling.

In your commencement address, you talk about the value of unexpected opportunities. Tell us about the unexpected opportunity that shifted your focus to education?

After college I participated in Texas legislature and also worked for a news reporting service. Later, I became a staff person when Ross Perot was running for the presidency and that’s when I was first introduced to education. I realized firsthand that education was truly the great equalizer among people. At that point, I was hooked.

You also talk about challenging tradition to achieve great breakthroughs. Can you describe a time when you did that and how you overcame the difficulty of taking a different path?

Most people are hardwired with our own beliefs and limitations about things. When I was asked to leave Texas and work as the domestic policy adviser at the White House, I initially thought: I can’t possibly make it there. There’s a big difference between Texas and D.C. But I pushed beyond that belief, changing it to: Why not? I went, and I’m glad I made that choice.

What role have mentors had in your career?

I’ve had many good mentors, one of them being former President George W. Bush. I still remember our first meeting in the Oval Office. I was wearing a lavender pantsuit (remember this was about 15 years ago) with a pair of backless, square-toed mules that had shiny, black heels. (laughs) The President commented on them and that was the start of a great mentorship and friendship that has opened many opportunities in my life and my career.

What final advice do you have for recent CTU graduates?

Find your own secret sauce and navigate your own unique path. Look ahead, but don’t miss the opportunities that are present where you are today. Maximize what you have. Develop relationships – workplace, familial and personal. In your job search, look for your boss as much as you look for the job. And finally, use your brain; always be learning and growing.

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Image Credit: Margaret Spellings