Pretty Darn Really Cool

What is always fun about being at St. Thomas is learning another “whoa, that’s really pretty darn cool” fact about our university, or meeting another really plain old fabulous colleague, alum or student. Last weekend was no exception, except that all of the above (the wow, whoa, really, cool, pretty, darn, fabulous facts about impressive alumnae and students) happened simultaneously over scrambled eggs and a tasty blueberry scone.

Saturday’s 75 degrees and unrelenting sunshine made a stunning backdrop for the third annual Women Connect Spring Legacy Brunch. No, I’m not an alum, darn it. But, lucky me, I was invited to be a “conversationalist” (I know, right? Me and conversation? Go figure.)

What is Women Connect? Basically, for most women, it’s the greatest idea ever. Technically, it’s an alumnae affinity group committed to inspire and advance one another personally, professionally and spiritually, as well as give back to the St. Thomas community through networking, service and fun. Women Connect awards scholarships, supports students in leadership development, hosts talks and events throughout the year, and attracts a cool cross-section of ages, degrees, colleges/schools, undergrad, graduate, Ph.D.s, Ed.D.s, JDs, MDs, CEOs, moms, daughters, sisters, old roommates from Dowling … you name the group, it’s involved.

And it was the smart Women Connect women who put on the upbeat, high-energy event Saturday in the Anderson Student Center. Yes, tulips and smiles – plus a few tears of feminine joy as we shared stories of the women who have supported and inspired us at UST and beyond – added even more sunshine to the 30 tables filling Wolfe Alumni Hall.

While I could easily write about the many dozen pretty darn really cool women about whom I learned and with whom I conversed, I want to spotlight one of the most “wow:” Semhar Araia, a ’99 grad honored by the White House in January with a "Champions of Change" award. She was cited for her work as founder and executive director of the Diaspora African Women’s Network, whose mission is to develop talented women and girls of the African diaspora, provide them with opportunities related to Africa, and promote community service in minority and immigrant neighborhoods. Semhar also served as a member of the Obama-Biden Presidential Transition Team and has experience as a foreign policy staffer in Congress, an Africa analyst for The Elders ( and an attorney on the implementation of the Eritrea-Ethiopia peace agreement. Her higher education started at St. Thomas when she came to major in economics and international Studies.

Semhar, you are one really darn cool and inspiring woman who took time out of your Saturday to chat with and mentor the next generation of fabulous alumnae. For that and your life-changing work, I say “whoa” and “wow” and “you go, girl!”

I know this blog is getting long, so I don’t have much more room to mention all of the other alumnae I met Saturday: people like Jayne Haugen Olson, editor of Mpls-St. Paul and Delta Sky magazines; Katie Tinucci, J.D. ’09, press secretary to Gov. Mark Dayton; Lindsey Lee ’04, editor-in-chief of HERLIFE magazine; Debra Schoneeman, M.B.A. ’96, chief financial officer at Piper Jaffray Companies; and Amy Simpson ’99, chief of staff at the Institute of Child Development at the University of Minnesota. Oh, the list could go on and on.

And then there were the students, like this year’s Women Connect scholarship recipient Molly Mamaril, a communication and journalism major, and Anesih and Stephanie … the really darn smart students at my table who gave me goose bumps as I heard what they have achieved. I’d like to tell more about them, and so many others, but if I try my editor will begin to quiver and cut me off at mid- . . .