Alumni Spotlight: Meet Palo Alto's New Mayor

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With its close ties to Stanford University and Silicon Valley, the city of Palo Alto places a high value on learning and is recognized worldwide as a hub of innovation.

The city’s new mayor, Principia Upper School graduate Nancy Shepherd (center, above), is herself an avid proponent of continual learning and practical innovation—of taking what exists and experimenting, adapting, and improving on it for the good of the many. In fact, says Mrs. Shepherd (US’72), “One of the overriding principles that Principia instilled in me was the concept of lifelong learning . . . how to continually keep things fresh, ‘dust off’ my own thinking, and not be afraid of learning something new.”

In this vein, over the 30 years Shepherd and her attorney husband Mark (and their four children) have called Palo Alto home, she has continually asked herself, “What do I need to learn today so I can better understand tomorrow?”

While working as a financial controller and consultant for many years, the self-described “free-spirited California girl” also volunteered extensively at local educational and youth-focused nonprofits. These efforts have been recognized via a number of awards, including service awards from the Palo Alto Council of PTAs and the 2009 and 2010 Wiley W. Manuel Awards for Pro Bono Legal Services from the State Bar of California.

Given her immersion in civic and public affairs, Shepherd’s transition from private citizen to public servant was a natural next step. In 2009, she ran for the city’s nonpartisan, nine-member managerial council, while also obtaining her master’s degree in international relations. Her family supported her run, with her two daughters (pictured above) often pitching in on campaign activities. After joining the council in 2010, Shepherd served as vice-mayor in 2013 and was unanimously elected mayor in January of this year.

Proud of Palo Alto’s vibrant economy and the fact that her city was voted 2014’s “most livable” city in the United States by www.livability.com (which highlights small to mid-sized cities), Shepherd is mindful of the pressures that economic growth and academic allure place on what she often refers to as “the human condition.”

“The city is responsible for all the deliverables that affect the human condition,” Shepherd says, “and that’s a big job.” With the growth in traffic pressures and in real estate values, she is concerned that the city not become unnavigable or unaffordable for the majority, and that it not lose its “small town” feel.

In her February State of the City speech (lauded by one journalist for being a “concise and focused” 20 minutes), Shepherd noted that the council’s 2014 work plan will address “more than 30 substantive items,” including parking, housing, compost facilities, infrastructure projects, and labor negotiations. In particular, the new mayor urged citizens to be involved in the “Our Palo Alto” initiative, which will “lay the foundation [for] how we move ahead as a community” by seeking input from a broad range of residents about their hopes and concerns for the city.

Palo Alto, Shepherd says, "is in a continuing conversation about growth, development, and change”—a conversation in which she herself has been very engaged for many years and in which she now wants to engage her fellow citizens.