Bachelor of Arts
Political Science, Major
Juris Doctor, Cum Laude, American University, Washington College of Law
Place of Work:
Kentucky State Capitol, Frankfort, Kentucky
Alison Lundergan Grimes, ’01, is Kentucky’s 76th Secretary of State and only current female constitutional officer. As the daughter of a former head of the Kentucky Democratic Party and State Representative and a current Democratic National Committee member, the realm of politics was a natural fit for Secretary Grimes. Secretary Grimes has a lifelong commitment to public service and, in particular, protecting the right to vote. She grew up walking the precincts and counties of the Commonwealth of Kentucky to make sure all citizens had access to vote on Election Day. Secretary Grimes expanded on her belief in public service while attending law school in Washington, D.C., by performing public policy research for the National Kidney Foundation of the National Capitol Area.
In 2011, Secretary Grimes left her successful law practice to dedicate herself full time to serving the citizens of Kentucky. Over the course of last year, she traveled the entire state, speaking with citizens about the issues that confront them and listening to their ideas to improve Kentucky. These conversations and the general election results confirmed that Kentuckians share Secretary Grimes’ commitment to creating jobs, encouraging business growth, promoting civics education and increasing participation in elections. Indeed, as the only woman and youngest candidate on the Democratic ballot, Secretary Grimes led the Democratic ticket in votes received this past November.
Congratulations on the election! How has the transition been since being elected?
While the November General Election was certainly very exciting, we celebrated on November 8th and began work the next day, transitioning the office from the outgoing administration. I officially took the oath of office on January 2nd and have been working hard to make sure the office continues to serve to the best of its ability not only in business filings, but in elections as well. I am truly humbled to come to work each day and do my best to give back to the citizens of Kentucky.
How did your experience at Rhodes prepare you for your career today?
Rhodes is such a great place for not only learning, but growing as well. I can recall walking from one end of the campus to the other and saying hello to everybody I saw along the way. Even if you didn’t know their name, there was always a friendly smile. The ability to impact someone’s life through these small gestures has stayed with me and carried over to the campaign trail. I’ve found that you can make a difference just by reaching out and listening – that is a simple gesture I learned at Rhodes while walking from my dorm to the Rat! Although it’s a lesson learned outside the classroom, it’s a lesson the Rhodes culture nurtures and imparts. I’m so grateful for the time I had at Rhodes – the friendships, not only with the professors, but with classmates who have been very supportive and encouraging. We all still keep in touch, especially my Chi Omega sorority sisters. Rhodes instilled in me that I could do anything I set my mind to, and I’m where I am today because of the foundations that were built at Rhodes.
Was there a professor at Rhodes who had a particularly significant impact on you?
Yes, there were several. I majored in political science, and I had some great professors who really cultivated my love for public service, both from the political science and history perspectives. I still keep in touch with several of them today.
In the political science arena, Professor Stephen Wirls, Professor Michael Nelson, and Professor Daniel Cullen were especially motivating, not only in how they conducted the classes, but in their passions outside the classroom. They truly challenged their students and imparted the value of public service. On the history side, Dr. Luther Ivory and Dr. Russell Wigginton were influential. From the first day I set foot on Rhodes’ campus, I found myself in their offices talking about the direction that things were headed not only in Memphis, but nationwide. For instance, when I was young, debate competitions were a very big part of my life. I studied Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s many speeches during middle and high school and then got to expand upon that passion with Dr. Ivory at Rhodes. I continue to maintain those relationships even years after my graduation. I was so honored and excited when I received a handwritten note from Professor Wigginton congratulating me on the general election! The Rhodes connections truly do last throughout the years.
After the intimacy of a small school like Rhodes, was the transition to D.C. difficult?
Rhodes does a great job of preparing students for the outside world in that it teaches you to communicate effectively. The ability to communicate not only through speaking but through writing is an invaluable takeaway from Rhodes. After my four years at Rhodes, I was able to walk into Washington College of Law, a place where nobody looked like me, sounded like me, talked like me, and graduate cum laude while working with the National Kidney Foundation of the National Capital Area doing public policy research. And beyond the transition to D.C., Rhodes was truly instrumental in providing me with the tools necessary to lead the Commonwealth of Kentucky as its 76th Secretary of State.