2008 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"If you are afraid of failing, you will never really taste victory."
Aulana Peters' roots are in the South. She was born in 1941, in Shreveport, Louisiana. At the time, her father, Clyde Pharis, waited tables; her mother, Eula Mae Pharis (nee Faulkner), worked as a domestic. A sister, Linda, was born a year later, and the family moved to Florida for the duration of World War II, while Mr. Pharis served in the U.S. Signal Corps. In 1945 the family moved to Philadelphia to take advantage of employment and other opportunities in the Northeast. In Philadelphia three more daughters were born into the Pharis family. Mr. Pharis worked in a Radio Corporation of America (RCA) factory. After repeatedly being passed over for promotions he believed he had earned, Mr. Pharis left RCA and took a job as a local salesman with Seagram Distillers. By the time he retired in the early 1970's, Mr. Pharis had risen to become the sales manager for the eastern district of Pennsylvania.
Both of Aulana's parents recognized the benefits provided by a good education for their children. Mrs. Pharis, who had been an honors student in high school, determined that her daughters would go further than she had-to college. Being impressed with the Philadelphia parochial school system, Mrs. Pharis became a Catholic so her children could qualify for acceptance in the parish schools. She and Aulana were baptized on the same day. Shortly thereafter Aulana started school at Our Mother of Sorrows Elementary School in West Philadelphia. Mrs. Pharis also went to work outside of the home to add to the family income. She sold cosmetics in a drugstore, until she became employed by the school district of Delaware County as a teacher's aide for developmentally and emotionally challenged youngsters.
At an early age, Aulana and her sisters learned the value of work as a way to self-sufficiency. Young Aulana worked to earn pocket money and later to help defray college expenses. From the age of 12, she babysat and helped clean house for neighbors. When asked by one neighbor to wear a uniform and wait on guests at a dinner party, Aulana hesitated, not wanting to be thought of as a 'servant.' But her mother encouraged her to accept the job, saying, 'Don't hesitate or be embarrassed to accept honest work even if it is house cleaning or waiting tables. The job you do does not define you. This is not what you will be doing for the rest of your life.' Aulana did work the dinner party but did not wear a uniform. The summer before college, Aulana worked as a cashier in a drugstore. The next three summers she answered telephones and ran title searches for a small company that provided these services to finance and mortgage companies.
Aulana Peters earned an undergraduate degree in philosophy from the College of New Rochelle, and ten years later earned a juris doctor degree from the University of Southern California. In the interim she lived in Europe, Latin America, and Africa. In 1973 she joined the national law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and was elected a partner in 1980. In 1984 President Ronald Reagan appointed, and the Senate confirmed, Aulana Peters as the Commissioner of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. She returned to Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in the summer of 1988, retiring from the firm at the end of 2000. While at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, Aulana Peters was involved in a number of pro bono activities, including running a Student Law Club in an inner-city middle school.
Mrs. Peters continues to have a strong desire to help disadvantaged youth realize their potential through education. A few years ago, she and her husband began working with a Los Angeles-based organization, the South Central Gifted Scholars Fund, which supports inner-city youth, providing mentoring and financial support to high school students focused on attending college.
Mrs. Peters' retirement years have not been idle. She has served from 2001 to 2002 as a member of the Public Oversight Board of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. She also served on the Financial Accounting Standards Board's Steering Committee for its Financial Reporting Project. Currently Mrs. Peters serves on the U.S. Comptroller General's Accountability Advisory Council and the International Public Interest Oversight Board, which oversees the audit, educational, and ethics standard setting activities of the International Federation of Accountants. She also serves on the boards of Northrop Grumman Corporation, 3M Corporation, Merrill Lynch & Company, Inc., and Deere & Company. She is a trustee for the Mayo Clinic.