When graduating senior Sarah Liu learned she would introduce Gwynne Shotwell during Northwestern’s virtual Commencement ceremony on June 14, she arranged to speak with the keynote speaker in advance.
After just one conversation, Liu quickly realized they were so incredibly different and, yet, they had so much in common.
Liu, a double major in economics and legal studies in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, will go on to work in the finance industry at Morgan Stanley in Chicago. During her four years on campus, she participated on the mock trial team, served as president of Phi Alpha Delta law fraternity and worked as a student consultant in the Chicago Field Studies Office. In a few years, she plans to continue her Northwestern experience as an MBA student in the deferred enrollment Kellogg Future Leaders Program.
She introduced Shotwell, a double alumna of the McCormick School of Engineering and a Northwestern trustee, as a pioneer in aerospace technology, a leader dedicated to improving the country and “a woman in our alumni family who embodies the Northwestern spirit.”
Liu spoke with Northwestern Now before Commencement about walking in Shotwell’s footsteps and what that spirit means to her.
What kind of student are you?
Coming to Northwestern four years ago, I believed that — no matter what I was learning — I could apply it to the field of my choice. The quarter system enables us to choose so many classes, and that structure is really so rewarding. For example, my engineering friends love to take classes in history or philosophy because they help improve their writing and critical thinking skills. I wanted to be a renaissance student, not constrained by a program or major, because I’m driven by this reverence for education and a belief that all learning serves our aspirations.
How would you describe the campus community?
Having come to the U.S. from China, I remember the challenges in childhood, learning a new language and trying to find my way. Like many immigrant stories, it was terrifying, coming to a new place, not knowing anyone and building myself up from the roots. My respect for my parents and my desire to sort of validate their sacrifices on my behalf have driven me to achieve more. And that led me to choose Northwestern and all of the opportunities here, a place where it seems everyone wants their peers to succeed and work together to capitalize on our collective talent.
If you want to make a connection, you just go up to someone and say “hi.” This environment made me feel I belong, like this was home.
So, I just try to be as welcoming and helpful as possible to the students who come after me. I think seeing a smiling face on campus during midterms is huge. I love my work in Chicago Field Studies because I take students through their first internship, get them started down their own career path and then see how happy it makes them.
Students helping other students, setting each other up for success, is parallel to how Gwynne Shotwell is setting us up for our futures through her involvement as an alum and trustee. And that spirit of giving back remains with us whether we’re still students or have become alumni.
How will you leave your mark on the world?
As I begin my career in finance, I’m interested in how we invest in our communities. One day, I’d like to start my own venture capital firm that focuses on minority-owned businesses, just to give people a chance. I know how difficult it can be on an uneven playing field, coming from an immigrant background, maybe facing social injustices. I want to help empower individuals who, on a daily basis, are always striving to find their own place in society. I want to advocate for them and tell them, “If you have a goal, you have a place wherever you want to be.”