For its 39th annual Paul Harris Fellow Recognition Luncheon, the Rotary Club of San Marino called upon its own ambassador, of sorts, to deliver the keynote address.
And Katarina Mayers, a 2007 graduate of San Marino High School, delivered, giving what amounted to a “thank you” to the Rotary Club for helping to facilitate her post-high school journey that eventually made her an appointee in former President Barack Obama’s administration.
She recalled being in the White House’s east wing about a year ago, watching her alma mater Villanova Wildcats win the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.
“I had to take a step back from that moment and ask myself, ‘How did I get into the White House?’” she explained at the March 23 luncheon at the Huntington Library.
Well, that journey started right here in San Marino. After graduating as co-valedictorian at SMHS, she earned her bachelor’s degree in communication (with a journalism concentration) and minoring in gender and women’s studies, theater and Spanish, graduating cum laude from Villanova University in Philadelphia. She interned for NBC, CBS and Telemundo while earning her degree.
Mayers then represented this Rotary Club as an Ambassadorial Scholar in Santiago, Chile, for a year, where she studied contemporary Latin America at Pontifical Catholic University of Chile and also helped to orchestrate numerous local projects and sharpened her Spanish by performing in an original stage production.
As her year abroad drew to an end, Mayers admitted she began to wonder whether she would be happy reporting the news instead of doing something to make the news.
“As we all figure out, nothing in life ever goes as planned,” she said.
And thus, an application to intern at the White House was submitted online. It survived the void of the Internet and for several months in 2013, Mayers interned in the White House Communications Office preparing news packets for Spanish news media outlets and was awarded a Congressional Gold Award for Youth by the U.S. Congress in June that year.
By October, Mayers was officially appointed by Obama as a press assistant with the U.S. Department of Commerce and ultimately rose to deputy press secretary for that department. She recalled a trip with then-Deputy Commerce Secretary Bruce Andrews to Tbilisi, Georgia, at the Europe-Asia crossroads in which she sat with her superior as he met with Georgia’s prime minister and president.
Following the meeting, Andrews consulted Mayers on how she thought things went.
“For me to be able to do things on my own and make decisions, that was a really empowering moment,” she said.
As Obama’s term approached its own end last year, Mayers said she knew she would formally be out of a job for the next inauguration and had a choice to make: join one of the ongoing presidential campaigns or return to academics.
She is now working toward her master’s degree in public administration (with a focus on urban policy) at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs in New York.
“It seems I made the right choice,” she quipped, drawing chuckles from her audience. “And who could say no to New York when you love Broadway and pizza?”
In November, Mayers was elected as Columbia’s student body president. In a nod to her history with the Rotary Club, Mayers said she helped to introduce a service month for Columbia students.
After she graduates next year, Mayers said she plans to return home after her decade of education, journalism, travel and public service.
“Rotary was the extra push and challenge to get me out of my comfort zone,” she said, wrapping up her address. “You gave me an opportunity to be an ambassador of goodwill and I have never taken that lightly.
“Whether it’s at the White House, at Columbia University or here in San Marino, I’m determined to make my difference,” Mayers continued. “Once I graduate from Columbia next May, I’ll come back home and see what we can do together.”