Alumnae Spotlight

Heather Seebald

Heather Harvey Seebald '01

My academic career started with my working diligently through high school, earning good grades, pushing for strong test scores, and participating in a variety of leadership activities while working a part-time job, all for the sake of getting scholarships to make college affordable. Once I had achieved my goal and was able to attend a great institution like Agnes Scott College, for the first time in my life I felt that my brain was my own, to do with whatever I wanted.  And I wanted to take Latin, a class that I had taken my freshman year of high school but later dropped based on the advice of a teacher who told me that a spoken language would fare better with scholarship committees. Well, now that I had the college finances worked out, I was going to do what I wanted.

I figured I would enjoy Latin; I didn't know that I would fall in love. It combined three things that I adored: history, literature, and an almost mathematical approach to grammar and syntax. Soon I was taking ancient Greek and loading up on Roman art history and Classical culture courses. I simply couldn't get enough of it. In fact, I was determined to get my PhD and spend the rest of my career teaching this awesomeness to generations of enthusiastic students like myself. It was all going to work out.

Then senior year rolled around, and suddenly I was hit with a panic. In theory, I was prepared to apply to graduate school, but I couldn't escape this nagging feeling that there was more for me to explore, and that there just might be something out there that I would enjoy just as much as Classics – maybe even more so. I knew that graduate school would be a huge commitment, and I didn't want to commit unless I knew it was the right decision. Fortunately, there was a long line of employers waiting to offer me exciting, lucrative positions based on my Classics degree alone. Just kidding. Even I knew that I would need to pay my dues in order to be taken seriously in the non-academic world.

Years later (we don’t need to discuss the exact number, right?), I am very proud of my career, which (eventually) ended up in Human Resources.  Currently I am a Manager of Compensation for a large, multi-state company with approximately 18,000 employees.  I love my job, and I’ve been loving my career for the past several years.  So how does this tie into Classics?  Well, let me tell you:

  1. Ongoing intellectual curiosity.  In Classics, we were never “done” learning the language, even as we got increasingly better. This is because the language changed over time, so getting really, really good at Lucretius does not mean that you are going to know what to do with Tacitus.  We became accustomed to the rules changing – a lot.  And to keep up with those changing rules, you had to ask a lot of questions. Corporate America is all about change – mergers, acquisitions, new technology, economic and political factors – you name it.  Many times I have met people who simply can’t take another change – which is basically career death.  I’ve built a reputation for being someone who can handle change, and isn’t afraid to ask the questions that no one else wants to ask. Side note, I never refer to any question as dumb, including my own.  Question without apology. Trust me on this one.
  2. Humility, Failure, and Pushing Through. Back to Lucretius versus Tacitus…I found a certain pattern of learning. I would begin a course feeling challenged, even frustrated, that I would never conquer the material.  Eventually I would start to get into the swing of it, and by the end of the semester would be feeling pretty confident. Once that final exam was graded and I was on to the next course, I would look back with longing on last semester’s “easy” material.  The fact is that this is the key to success – taking on a project, pushing through, dealing with the stress, working through the stress, reaching eventual success, and then starting over.  This is how we grow, and as painful as it may feel during the crescendo, I start craving that excitement after one Saturday morning spent on my couch watching TV. 
  3. That thing about math.  Although mathematics was never my favorite subject, I do enjoy logic and patterns.  I also enjoy language, literature, and history. Classics was the perfect blend of all of these things.  The skill that helps me put together a carefully worded memo comes from the same background as the skill that helps me analyze the turnover and compensation “sweet spot” for a group of employees in a specific title.  Classics didn’t make me choose between poetry-loving Heather and analytical Heather, and being able to maximize these strengths has helped my career.
  4. We all want to do something we love. Figure out what that feels like so you know what you’re seeking. For me, college was four years of letting my mind study what it wanted.  Yes, I am in Human Resources now, and if I had chosen to attend a different college and study something such as Business or Human Resources, I could have potentially found my career a little quicker. But there is no way I would have found that course of study interesting at the age of 18, or even at the age of 25. I have no regrets, because I know what it feels like to be completely, utterly, intently interested and excited about what I am doing, thanks to the four years I spent doing it. Knowing what that feels like helped me navigate through those first couple of “pay your dues” jobs and figure out what really interested me. In my world, companies are always trying to figure out how to ensure their employees are engaged in their jobs. Thanks to my time in Classics, I know exactly what being engaged feels and looks like.

It's been years since I've translated a Latin or Greek text, and I slowly donated all of my text books when I realized that I was never going to change my mind and get that PhD.  My resume lists my degree and field of study, and not once have I apologized for its lack of “real worldness.”  I'm proud of that degree and how it has shaped the person and the professional that I have become.