The Alumni Speaker Series at Junior Forum kicked off in October with Ali Pappas ’07, a senior manager, global marketing strategy with luxury design house Kate Spade, who channeled a childhood passion for fashion into a fulfilling career.
Stylish in slim black pants and a plaid blazer with white Beatle boots, Ms. Pappas offered the gathering of 93 juniors relatable tales from her Friends School days.
“At this moment when I was a junior at Friends, Mr. Seiler was my advisor, I was a member of the Pleiades, and I was in the middle of field hockey season,” she told the group, eliciting giggles from a handful of a cappella singers and hockey players in the room.
A required class for all 11th graders, Junior Forum presents college admission workshops, trainings, and outside speakers on a range of topics. The addition this year of alumni speakers to the format is an outcome of recent surveys in which students and alumni expressed a greater desire, respectively, for information about future careers and mentoring opportunities.
“The Alumni Speaker Series at Junior Forum is a chance for students to hear about and feel inspired by what our alums, the very folks who sat in their seats years ago, are doing professionally and to learn about the different paths they took to get there,” says Christine Pappas ’01, Director of Alumni Relations and Engagement and Ms. Pappas ’07’s sister.
In Quaker tradition, the School is providing visiting alumni with a single query to guide their presentations: What is your why? For Pappas, a Friends School lifer, the answer lies in a signature ensemble she wore each day in former Kindergarten teacher Miriam Fleury ’70’s classroom.
“From the start of school to the end of October, I wore one outfit…a white cotton turtle neck and a white cotton skirt with small flowers around the edges. My mom had to come in to assure Mrs. Fleury that she was washing it after I wore it…that she just had a very stubborn daughter at home,” she told the group. Fast forward to Pappas’s 5th grade year, when she saw actor Alicia Silverstone’s character in “Clueless.”
“I immediately fashioned something that resembled the iconic Cher Horowitz’s look (plaid skirt, yes, I used a Friends field hockey kilt).”
When her parents suggested during her sophomore year that it was time to get a job, Pappas initially balked. Some of her friends had jobs babysitting, lifeguarding, or waiting tables, but none of these interested her. An impromptu conversation with her mother provided the spark.
“I was venting about how I didn’t know what I wanted to do when my mom asked, ‘Well, what do you like to do?’”
Fifteen-year-old Ali Pappas liked to shop. Specifically, she told her mother, she liked to shop at the pricey boutique South Moon Under. That afternoon she picked up a job application. Within days she had a job in the store, working three to four shifts per week.
“I loved it!” she recalls. “I loved helping people, listening to their stories and getting to know them, and I loved being around the clothes.”
After Friends, Pappas attended Denison University in Granville, Ohio, where she majored in economics with a minor in French. A summer internship at LACOSTE Footwear in NYC led to a full-time position with the company. “Five days after I got my diploma, I moved to NYC and started my first job at LACOSTE Footwear – and I stayed there for six years.”
In her current position at Kate Spade, where she has served for three years, Pappas and her team “look at our customers (who are they? where do they live? what are they buying? how are they engaging with our content? what are they saying on social media?). Then we look at our products for the upcoming seasons. As a marketing team, we work to develop a framework within which to talk to our customers about the products…what are we trying to say to the customer this season? What story are we going to tell them?”
She says that the fundamental skills she acquired at Friends – critical thinking, writing, and listening to diverse perspectives – remain essential in her professional life.
“What you are learning today and what you have learned during your time at Friends is extremely valuable – the fundamentals are not taught in college or anywhere else and they will stick with you for the rest of your life.”
As for career advice?
“Start with what you like doing and your ‘why,’ or your true passion, will reveal itself.”