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Friday, August 1, 2014 | Last updated: 5:28pm

Girl Scouts CEO to speak at UA commencement



College graduates have the power to change the world through service.

This is the message Anna Maria Chávez, CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA, hopes students take with them on Saturday night as they graduate from UA students to alumni. Chávez will be this year’s commencement speaker.

“Service is about taking your gifts, your talent and vision, and using them to inspire and uplift and lead others,” Chávez said.

As a Girl Scout in the Tucson area, Chávez discovered her passion for public service and decided she wanted to be a lawyer when she was 12 years old. Chávez said she prepared for law school throughout high school and while she was an undergraduate student studying American history at Yale University.

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By Jazzmine Beaulieu
Courtesy of Girl Scouts of the USA Anna Maria Chåvez, the CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA, will speak at the 2014 commencement. Chåvez, an Arizona native, said she encourages students to use their gifts to lead others.

After graduating from the UA’s James E. Rogers College of Law in 1994, Chávez was one of eight nationwide law school graduates recruited to be part of an honors attorney program. The program placed her in the office of the secretary at the U.S. Department of Transportation in Washington, D.C.

“I owe everything, really, to my education, and specifically to my legal education at the U of A, for putting me on the most amazing path of public service and the opportunity to give back not only at the state level, but at the federal level,” Chávez said.

Chávez also spent time working at the White House before returning to Arizona to work in the governor’s office for former governors Jane Dee Hull and Janet Napolitano. In 2009, she took a Girl Scouts leadership position in San Antonio, Texas, as the CEO of Southwest Texas, before being appointed as national CEO in 2011.

Debbie Rich, CEO of the Girl Scouts of Southern Arizona, said Chávez is a strong woman who grew up in Arizona and was guided by the state and her community.

“She’s an amazing role model to young women — and I’m sure young men who are graduating as well — because she has definitely taken all that she’s been handed and earned and is succeeding with it,” Rich said. “I know that a lot of that came from her education, her family [and] all those things that we think about on graduation day.

Growing up in Southern Arizona taught Chávez resiliency and service, she said, adding that she hopes graduates take away her message of the importance of giving back.

“I hope that my story is an example for other girls and other young men who are looking to improve their lives and their family lives, and that it’s a story of a focus on education,” Chávez said.

Having been in their shoes about 20 years ago as she graduated from the UA, Chávez will share her personal story and connect with graduates by showing them how the UA provided opportunities for her to be successful.

As a UA student, Chávez said, she enjoyed being on campus because of its welcoming environment.
Chávez helped coach the UA cheerleading squad when the UA basketball team reached the Final Four in 1994, Chávez’s final year at the university. She also volunteered at a legal aid clinic in downtown Tucson.

The invitation to speak at commencement was unexpected, Chávez said, adding that she’s excited to visit home.

“It’s kind of coming full circle, you know, to be back on campus, not as a student, but as somebody that I hope can share some life stories and hopefully provide some inspiration to the graduates,” Chávez said.

Chávez has stayed connected to the UA by participating in alumni events in New York, said Melinda Burke, president and executive director of the UA Alumni Association. Because Burke’s message to graduates at the ceremony is to stay involved with their alma mater, Chávez will help set an example, she added.

Having an alumna who has done well in her career speak at the ceremony can show the 6,000 students graduating on Saturday what they can achieve with a degree from the UA, Burke said.

“I think people will find her a passionate, enthusiastic, really brilliant woman who’s had great success in her career,” Burke said. “I think she’s a wonderful choice.”


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