Distinguished Alumna

Gwen Griffin Sherman ’80, Distinguished Alumna

Karen Orders

Throughout her career in finance, Gwen Griffin Sherman ’80 has followed her calling. That calling prompted her to apply for her current position: director of finance and administration at the Seattle-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. For Sherman, working for the Gates Foundation is more than a job, though—it’s a vocation.

“I love what I do every day,” Sherman said in delivering Southwestern University’s 2007 commencement address. “The blessing, the vocation, is getting to do what I love for an organization whose mission resonates with my heart, an organization that has a narrow focus in order to achieve a big impact in the world.”

In honor of her own impact on the world, Sherman has been designated the recipient of Southwestern’s Distinguished Alumna Award. The annual alumnus/alumna award is the highest honor bestowed by The Association of Southwestern University Alumni. Recipients exemplify the qualities of excellence as taught and represented by Southwestern.

Sherman graduated from Southwestern in 1980 with a bachelor of business administration degree in accounting. At Southwestern, she helped set up the University’s Student Foundation and was its first president. Sherman also was instrumental in reviving University Sing after many years of dormancy.

With her Southwestern degree in hand, Sherman went on to work for CPA firms in San Antonio and Austin and as finance director for the City of Georgetown. Following a move with her husband, Ben, to the Pacific Northwest, Sherman became director of finance for the Seattle Children’s Home and financial planning manager for the City of Redmond, Wash.

In 1999, she joined the Gates Learning Foundation as its controller. When the Learning Foundation merged with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Sherman was promoted to her current position, director of finance and administration. The Gates Foundation is the country’s wealthiest grant maker, with more than $38 billion in assets.

“The best part of my work is doing what I love for an organization that is working to make dramatic, significant progress against some of the world’s biggest inequities in health, education and poverty,” Sherman says.

Sherman credits her parents (who are Southwestern alumni) and her education at Southwestern with propelling her toward vocational achievement.

“Like the turtle on the fencepost, I didn’t get there by myself,” Sherman said in her commencement address. “My parents fostered in me a strong work ethic, and taught values of integrity and responsibility.”

She added, “Southwestern University has been instrumental to my success in many ways: the rigorous academic training I received, the opportunities to build leadership skills, and relationships in and outside the classroom with people who encouraged me along the way. Southwestern helped prepare me for every job I have held since graduating, and each job helped prepare me for the next one.”

Although she now works and lives in the Pacific Northwest, Sherman hasn’t strayed too far from her Southwestern roots. Sherman, who grew up in Victoria, Texas, is a member of the University’s Board of Visitors and is a former member of Southwestern’s Alumni Board. Sherman and her husband, who live on Mercer Island, have two adult daughters: Star and Jennifer.

During her time in the Seattle area, Sherman has acted in and undertaken behind-the-scenes tasks for local theatre productions, performed in her church’s handbell choir and served on the board of Washington Literacy. In her commencement address, Sherman reminded graduates there are “countless ways” to be of service to the world, such as pursuing work in education, government, business, science or the arts—and giving of yourself.

“The many ways to serve include not only your career, but also your volunteer time, charitable giving, faith-community pursuits and ... family life,” Sherman told the graduates. “May you start tomorrow, and for the rest of your lives, to use your personal power in pursuit of your vocation in the world—that place where your deep joy and the world’s great need meet.” Sherman certainly appears to have found her vocation in the world.