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Alana Shepherd, guest speaker and co-founder of the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, speaks to students and guests at the Chapel at the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia, on Tuesday, February 19, 2019. (Photo/Kyle Nadler, @kylenadler)

When Alana Shepherd picked up the phone in 1973, she never imagined the impact that one call would have on the rest of the world.

“I feel very fortunate that these leadership opportunities just dropped on me,” Shepherd said during her lecture. “[Everyone said] somebody will start something, and somehow that somebody became us.”

During the Mason Public Leadership Lecture on Feb. 19 in the University of Georgia Chapel, Shepherd spoke to a large audience of Terry students, faculty and her friends about cultivating necessary leadership qualities by following three simple steps and getting involved in volunteer work.

“Forge ahead toward your own goals with a gracious, determined confidence,” Shepherd said.

An accident changes history

After she was notified through a phone call that their son, James, had suffered a severe spinal injury — and later being unable to find quality care in Atlanta — Shepherd and her husband, Harold, founded the Shepherd Center.

The not-for-profit hospital cares for patients with spinal cord injuries, brain injuries, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain and other neuromuscular conditions.

According to a U.S. News & World Report, Shepherd Center is ranked one of the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. It has grown from six beds in 1975 to 152 beds today.

Shepherd is also known for her work for a more accessible world. With her advocacy, wheelchair lifts are now required for all MARTA buses, and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is one of the country’s most accessible airports.

The fight for accessibility continued with Paralympians. Shepherd’s efforts to bring the International Paralympic Games to Atlanta in 1996 led to a mandate from the International Olympic Committee that all cities that propose bids for the Olympic Games must include accommodations and financing for the Paralympics.

In 2011, the entire Shepherd family was awarded honorary doctor of law degrees from The University of Georgia for their contribution to the state of Georgia’s healthcare system.

Creating opportunities through volunteering

Shepherd encouraged students to enrich themselves, take charge of their own lives and remember to be kind and caring to each other.

She also called on young female students who are interested in business leadership to make their presence known.

“When somebody asks who will do this, put your hand up,” Shepherd said. “Do it now.”

Even the smallest roles in community outreach are guaranteed to cultivate strong leadership skills, she said.

“Perhaps you’re not sure what you want to commit your time to, but don’t let that stop you,” Shepherd said. “Just follow your interests and your convictions.”

Shepherd reiterated the importance of being generous and humble servant leaders, citing Truett Cathy and Bill Gates as examples for students to follow. She reminded students that being empathetic toward others will help them find abilities and talents within themselves.

“Alana Shepherd and her family have made monumental contributions to healthcare and the state of Georgia,” Institute for Leadership Advancement Associate Director Courtney Aldrich said. “She recognized the need to change the community so patients are able to resume their lives.”

Despite the rain, many Terry students and professors were eager to hear from Shepherd.

“It's almost always a packed house,” Aldrich said. “We have been so impressed with the student interest and participation in the Terry Leadership Speaker Series.”

Sophomore finance major Will Kimsey said he appreciated the ILA for hosting prominent speakers like Shepherd.

“It’s hard to hear these messages otherwise in person, and having students be able to ask questions definitely gives [the lecture] a certain weight,” Kimsey said. “[I learned] how important service is in all that you do.”

The Mason Public Leadership Lecture is a part of the ILA’s Terry Leadership Speaker Series and the university’s Signature Lecture series.

The lecture is named after UGA and Terry alumnus Keith Mason, whose grant helps fund the series. The lecture is designed to bring influential business leaders who are involved in their community or have worked in a public service role to speak with Terry students.

Columbia University professor Stephanie McCurry will speak as part of the Ferdinand Phinizy Lecture Series and UGA Signature Lecture Series on Feb. 22 in the Seney-Stovall Chapel at 5:30 p.m.


Correction: A previous version of this article said that the Stephanie McCurry event was in association with the Terry Leadership Speaker Series. This is a separate event. The Red & Black regrets this error and has since been corrected.

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