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  • Writer's pictureThe Norman Howard School

"The world doesn't happen to you" - Encouraging words from Ursula Burns

The theater resonated when Ursula Burns, longtime CEO of Xerox, shared these words of advice with our students during our NHS Speaker Series engagement in May, "The world doesn't 'happen' to you, the determining moments are within you."

Burns, the longtime CEO of Rochester-based Xerox and only black female CEO of a Fortune 500 company, retires this June. Her other accomplishments include working closely with President Obama on a STEM education initiative and also serving on the boards of Exxon Mobil and Nestle.

Her experiences spanned from growing up in poverty with a single mom, who she credits for instilling character, whose expectations for her were simply to be a good person. A touching story she shared is that she regrets not returning to her mother's bedside and the lesson this teaches is that "our instincts mean a lot" and to trust them.

Students asked thoughtful questions about regrets, favorite books, and "how does it feel to be an inspiration to so many?". Her answers were straighforward and encouraging.

"Here it the responsibility to those who love you- the don't want you to live error free," she encouraged students to take risks, make mistakes.

On being the only black CEO of a Fortune 500 Company her response was, "it would have been easier as a white male, but it might not have happened." She likened her role, and the role of high level corporate leaders to being in a "tunnel"... it's all-consuming and you have to love it.".

She takes the responsibility of being an inspiration to others very seriously.


Mrs. Burns' son attended The Norman Howard School upon the recommendation of a provider in England. In just a short time, he was able to move past his challenges with reading. Today, he has a achieved significant success, he's pursuing a Ph.D. in a math-related field at NYU and loves cooking. We hope he'll stop in soon for a visit!

Thank you Ursula Burns for inspiring our students and the entire Rochester community.

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