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SMC to honor former Southwest exec with doctoral degree

Caitlin Housley | Friday, May 20, 2011

The former president of Southwest Airlines will receive an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree from Saint Mary’s during the Commencement ceremony Saturday.

Colleen Barrett, who joined Southwest Airlines when the company was founded in 1971 and worked her way up to become president, said she encourages graduates to pursue a career based on their passions rather than money.

“Don’t ever take a job for the pay or the title,” Barrett said. “Take it only if you are comfortable that you share a passion for whatever the basic cause the organization you are joining is embracing.”

As the women prepare to begin their life after graduation, Barrett said they should attempt to match their interests with their career paths.

“If your avocation and your vocation can be the same, you are a very fortunate person,” she said. “In my opinion, when this is the case, then work really doesn’t seem like work, and it can actually be enjoyable.”

Barrett said the most difficult part of the transition from college to the business world was the realization that she had a lot left to learn.

“[The hardest part was] realizing how much I had to learn about teamwork, accountability, confidentiality in terms of clients,” she said.

Although some lessons were difficult to grasp, others proved to be very valuable lessons in Barrett’s life.

“[I realized that the] satisfaction of making a positive difference each day was far more important and rewarding to me than pay or accolades,” Barrett said.

Barrett also discovered common sense and good judgment were valuable traits to possess in the business world and can be used to build relationships.

Barrett advised business majors to learn from networking and from their co-workers.

College classes are only a start to the business world, she said.

“Don’t go out there thinking you are ready to teach anyone anything,” she said. “Instead, go out there to grasp as much knowledge as possible from those who have been there for awhile.”

Barrett stepped down from her position as president of Southwest Airlines in 2008.