Gabrielle Giffords in Mennonite garb, 1993.
Gabrielle Giffords in Mennonite garb, 1993.
courtesy of Scripps College

Gabrielle Giffords Shares Alma Mater with Margaret Hance, Ann Symington

An eclectic collection of politically involved Arizona women have graduated from Scripps College, Gabrielle Giffords' alma mater.

Margaret Hance, Phoenix mayor from 1976-83 went there. Class of '45. So did Ann Symington, '74, wife of former (disgraced) Arizona Governor J. Fife Symington. And Christa Severns, a former congresional staffer (and formerly married to Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon) graduated from Scripps in 1985.

(Full disclosure: I'm also a Scripps College graduate, class of '88.)

Scripps is a tiny womens' college tucked among four other undergraduate institutions that make up the Claremont Colleges in San Bernardino County. When I heard Southern California, I thought blue skies and beaches, but this is the not-so-nicely named Inland Empire -- home instead to smog and a climate only slightly more forgiving than Phoenix's.

Never mind. That gives the students more time to geek out. Each college has its own personality: Pomona's the academic powerhouse (not quite the Harvard of the West, despite T-shirts telling you so); Harvey Mudd's all about engineering; Pitzer's artsy and arguably the easiest to get into; and Scripps is either a strongly disciplined humanities-based women's college or a girls' finishing school, depending on whom you ask (and depending on the student -- one might put Hance in the former category and Symington in the latter).

The fifth in the list of colleges, Claremont McKenna, is known as the political/government school -- and in fact, several Arizona elected officials -- including Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman '84, Arizona legislator Ken Cheuvront '83 and former legislator Steve May '93 -- went there.

But when it comes to Arizona politicians, Scripps clearly trumps Claremont McKenna, in the form of Gabby Giffords.

Giffords gave the commencement address at Scripps in 2009, and referenced the warm, fuzzy feelings a lot of graduates have about the place.

It's also a place that raises tough women. With an emphasis, Christa Severns only half-jokes, on the ability to accessorize.


"The thing about Scripps is that it rubs off on you," says Severns, who now does marketing and public affairs for Fennemore Craig, a Phoenix law firm. "The mission of the college is to grow its students into confident and courageous women, and Gabby personifies that mission -- right down to the great accessories.

"When I met her, she was in the Arizona State House. She was outgoing, curious, and incredibly friendly. We talked about how she had gone to study the Mennonites in Mexico. She got totally into the subject and how she had been fascinated to learn about the `Mennonites that had gone bad.'

"Who even knew there were Mennonites in Mexico, let alone those that had gone bad?"

A Scrippsie.


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