Related: Trinity Alumnae, Women, Women's Leadership

Kathleen Sebelius ’70: Leadership and Service




No doubt about it, the tenure of Trinity Alumna Kathleen Sebelius ’70 as Secretary of Health and Human Services included several healthy doses of controversy, both political and performance-based.  The political controversy over the Affordable Care Act — “Obamacare” — is still fierce, but is part of the rough-and-tumble consequences of leadership in the public square.  The performance-based controversy erupted as implementation of the healthcare reform law began — the website had notorious flaws upon its launch, and the ripple effects continue.

Nevertheless, Secretary Sebelius, who has announced her resignation as HHS Secretary, can take satisfaction in attaining more than 7.5 million enrollments in the new healthcare program.  For millions of Americans who previously suffered healthcare problems without insurance, the new program is providing considerable relief from hardship.

In the coming days we will surely read and watch many critiques of the Sebelius legacy in healthcare and at HHS, but for Trinity today, our focus must be on her example of leadership and service in public life.  Trinity’s primary mission in the education of women aims to develop precisely the kinds of leadership talents and service values that Kathleen Sebelius exemplified in her public career, first as the governor of Kansas, then as secretary of HHS.  She holds the distinction of being one of very few women ever to serve as a governor of a state, and that service was particularly notable in that she was a Democrat in a heavily Republican state.  She had a reputation for being able to forge consensus when she left the governor’s mansion to join President Obama’s cabinet.  Health and Human Services is among the larges and possibly most unwieldy of all of the federal agencies, and she took on that leadership challenge just as the corrosive politics of healthcare reform erupted into a monumental ideological battle that shows few signs of abating.

The whole point of Trinity’s mission is to engender in our students the strength and commitment to stand up and be counted in public, to be voices for those who have no voice, to become advocates on behalf of justice, to understand that the best kind of leadership is service to those in need, and to have the knowledge and talent to forge solutions to human problems.

Agree or disagree with the politics of healthcare reform, but respect the example of leadership and service that Secretary Sebelius has demonstrated.  We owe her thanks and gratitude for her willingness to stand up and speak out, to devote years of her life to leadership and service on behalf of all citizens.

1107.carey_article“The Trinity Sisters”

Click on the link above to read Kevin Carey’s Washington Monthly story on The Trinity Sisters

The story behind the photo, as told by both Kathleen Sebelius and Nancy Pelosi:  at the signing of the Affordable Care Act, President Obama gave a group hug to both HHS Secretary Sebelius and Speaker of the House Pelosi.  Speaker Pelosi said, “Isn’t it great to be here with the Trinity Sisters?” and President Obama looked around trying to see women in habits.  Secretary Sebelius laughed and said, “No, HERE WE ARE!” just as the camera caught the moment.  The Trinity Sisters!

Leader Pelosi remembered this moment when she issued her statement today on the Sebelius resignation:

Trinity Alumna and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Class of 1962, issued this statement today concerning her “Trinity Sister” Kathleen Sebelius:

Pelosi Statement on the Resignation of Secretary Kathleen Sebelius

April 10, 2014

Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi released the following statement today after it was announced that Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius would resign:

“From day one, Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has remained laser-focused on a single purpose: to make health care a right, not a privilege, for all Americans.  Her leadership has been forceful, effective, and essential.

“Secretary Sebelius was a leader in the long effort to make history for our country with passage of the Affordable Care Act.  She has been the key figure in the day-to-day work of implementing the law and securing new protections for patients.  Her legacy will be found in the 7.5 million Americans signed up on the marketplaces so far, the 3.1 million people covered on their parents’ plans, and the millions more gaining coverage through the expansion of Medicaid.  Beyond the law, her lasting impact will be felt in her work to expand mental health services, decrease disparities across communities, and promote women’s health.

“Whether it was during her time as Governor of Kansas or as a member of the President’s Cabinet, it has always been a special source of pride to share an alma mater with Secretary Sebelius – Trinity in Washington.  When the Affordable Care Act was signed into law, she and I were proud to stand together as ‘Trinity sisters,’ who brought our shared education and values to the fight for reform.  I know that Secretary Sebelius will carry those same ideals into her future endeavors; I thank her for her extraordinary service; and I wish her all the best.”


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Patricia A. McGuire, President, Trinity, 125 Michigan Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20017
Phone: 202.884.9050   Email: