By Rebecca Duran
You just never know, Los Altan Sherie Sweiss Dodsworth said. You just never know where life takes you.
She’s gone from uncertain college freshman at to a formidable woman with a string of successes in her life: chairwoman of the , head of the St. Mary’s Alumni Association, entrepreneur.
On Saturday she added another one—commencement speaker at her alma mater, where she addressed approximately 450 students of the Class of 2011.
“I broke through glass ceilings, like being the first female president of the alumni association of a college that had been all male up until 1970,” she said. “St. Mary’s taught me to believe in myself”
Dodsworth shared those St. Mary’s experiences and success in business at the college’s 148th commencement ceremony. After the ceremony, she said it never would have crossed her mind that she'd be a speaker at her alma mater. One can never truly predict one’s success.
Dodsworth still vividly recalls the trip she and her mom took from Carmel Valley to visit St. Mary’s College. She immediately fell in love with the school. She didn’t know what to expect from college and didn’t know what career she wanted.
She first majored in biology, something she said she found she wasn’t cut out for. She loved the problem solving involved in an accounting degree, though. She graduated with that bachelor's degree in accounting in 1978, part of the second class of women to graduate from the formerly all-male school.
From her graduation to today, one thing has lead to another.
St. Mary’s extolled her accomplishments when she was announced as commencement speaker: CFO of Insweb, CFO of Convac Germany, a managing director "and principal in many industries, ranging from investment management, semiconductor, e-commerce and venture capital.”
Dodsworth received the San Francisco Most Influential Women in Business Award in 2010 and was honored by St. Mary’s as one of its 40 most influential alumnae. She has served as a trustee of St. Mary’s and was the first alumna to serve as president of the College’s Board of Regents. She was also the first woman to be elected Alumna of the Year in 1999.
She became the first female president of the Alumni Association, president of the college’s Board of Regents and a trustee of the school. Her position on the Board of Regents is something she said helped her become chairwoman of the board of in 2004.
And she invented something.
“I never thought I’d be an inventor of something. It blows ME away.”
The devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the sight of people experiencing such loss galvanized Dodsworth to create Vital Records PortaVault, a light, water-resistant portfolio. Dodsworth founded Securita Inc., and the PortaVault became available in September 2006. Writing for St. Mary’s alumni magazine in 2008, Jennifer Wake described the portfolio as containing a “system for organizing and storing hundreds of documents that can be easily carried in a natural disaster.”
Less surprising to Dodsworth was her ascension as president of the Alumni Association. Founded in 1863, St. Mary’s was an all-male school for more than a century. The Board of Trustees voted for coeducation in December 1969, “too late to enroll a full class of women for fall 1970, but the change was made,” wrote Sandra Grayson in an article for St. Mary’s.
“I knew I could do it,” Dodsworth said of her presidency of the alumni association. “But I had to convince a lot of males that were on the board that I could.” She has supported the college financially and believes in the importance of the education of the students.
Moving to Los Altos was serendipity. She and her husband lived in West San Jose when she began working for a CPA firm in Los Altos. She loved the town so much that they moved there. She has become involved in the community and is the treasurer of the .
“There’s people working really hard to make our city a better place,” Dodsworth said. “There’s pretty good civility when it comes to conversations and people’s different point of views.”
In Los Altos, she said, there is a sense of working together for the future.
“People try to look out for what’s best for the city, for our youth and the community for years to come.”
She says that the Community Foundation reminds of her of St. Mary’s, because “it has been reaching out to the community, helps people and gives back.”
When she was 50, she made a goal to run a marathon, she told the graduating seniors Saturday. After crossing the finish line, she said she had her arms up in the air with a smile on her face.
She felt like she could accomplish anything, she said. She once questioned herself if she has what it takes to be successful, but her knowledge and perseverance nullifies that.
“If you sign up to do it, you’ve got to do it really well,” she said.