Shannon O’Brien ’77

Chair of the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, former Massachusetts State Treasurer and Receiver General

What advice would you give to a girl graduating from Williston today?   

Texting is the mode of communication favored by young people today. My best advice is to learn how to communicate without a keyboard. Typing your message often prevents more accurate expression of nuance, sarcasm, fear or other emotions that are best communicated in a “real” conversation. You gain so much by actually speaking with other human beings! To hone those communication skills, try sharing honest compliments with total strangers. Enjoy seeing the glow on someone’s face when you acknowledge a job well done! Take a course in public speaking during college. It will help improve your confidence to express yourself and enhance your chance of finding success in whatever career you ultimately choose.

Tell us about a woman who is your hero and why?

Former WNS teacher Cathleen Robinson Brown. She was the advisor to the Willistonian during my time as a student. She taught me how to write clearly and succinctly. She not only helped me improve my skills as a journalist, but gave me confidence to take on the position of Editor in Chief of the paper my senior year. I learned so much from her about time management, leadership, and how to pursue a standard of excellence that led to the paper receiving national recognition. While I had many excellent teachers and mentors during my time at Williston, her influence helped me develop skills that propelled my personal and professional success later in life.

What do you think is next for women in your professional field?

I have had a varied career that included positions in law, public service, journalism, nonprofit management and business so I don’t have one “field.” However, I primarily consider myself as a public servant and government official. Divisive politics have us embroiled in constant conflict with some not even able to agree upon what constitutes “facts” or “truth”! Right now, women are fighting for basic civil rights across this country. My hope is that women can channel this political anger and take concrete actions that will result in positive change to benefit many voiceless families in the future.

What motivates you in your work and life?

My family has been involved in public service for four generations in Massachusetts. I was always taught that I can and should make a difference to help others. In every facet of my varied career, I have worked to make a positive impact that improves my community. I have been lucky to do this as a journalist exposing consumer fraud, as a legislator passing laws to protect children from child abuse, and as the CEO of the Girl Scouts creating programs that bring learning opportunities to underserved communities. I enjoy bringing a team together to get everyone working together, excited to tackle a problem.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Take time to be kinder than you have to be. It pays dividends in the long run.