Skip to main content

The Citizen

Student Spotlight: Maria Syms

photo (4) photo (7) photo (9) photo 2 photo 5What did you do before you came to the Kennedy School?

I was a trial attorney in Hawaii for the first part of my career, but the contentious nature of legal practice did not sufficiently erode my soul, so I became involved in local and national government and politics. I served in the Bush administration as an Assistant United States Attorney in Los Angeles where much of my practice focused on immigration and civil rights.  Once I became a mom, I had to become creative about balancing family with my desire to continue in public service.  I served for ten years on my Town’s Planning Commission and was elected the first woman Chair and served two terms.  I then had the chance to be a small part of history in my Town when I was encouraged to run for Mayor in the first direct election of the position.


Would you highlight for us two or three accomplishments at Paradise Valley of which you are most proud? 

I am most proud of the dialogue I started in my Town while running for Mayor. Although I did not prevail, I was able to increase transparency and accountability in Town leadership.  In addition, my platform relating to increased vigilance for public safety has been completely adopted and at my urging, the Town has now invested in much needed improvements to the police infrastructure.  As a mother and longtime resident, it is gratifying to know that the people’s concerns regarding safety are now being addressed.  I am happy to have contributed to the peace of mind of my neighbors.


What convinced you to move from New York (where you grew up) all the way to Arizona?

I would like to say that I was driven by my commitment to the rugged individualism and independence of the Wild West, but I actually did it for love.  While I am true Arizonan now, you can never entirely take the New Yorker out of a girl.


What’s the best thing about New England? 

That feeling you have when you know the weather has just changed from summer to fall – it’s in the air.   And the leaves of course!


What do you miss most about Arizona? 

I miss sitting outside with my family and watching the vibrant colors of the Arizona sunset over Camelback Mountain – unmatched anywhere.


We see that you travelled to China and Israel this year. Why did you go and what did you learn? 

I think some of the most valuable offerings at HKS involve the treks.  Having the chance to travel to other countries and meet leaders and innovators who are shaping the future is one of the best educational experiences.   I was able to bring my family with me to China and it was great to enjoy it with them.  I particularly enjoyed the vibrancy of the arts and cultural community in Shanghai.  Israel was a very moving experience – before you actually visit it is very difficult to appreciate the physical proximity of so many different ethnic and religious groups.  It is a country rich in religious and historical significance and a must see for anyone focused on public policy.  And the food is excellent!


Christmas eve or Christmas morning? 

Christmas Eve and the excitement of the kids tracking Santa on their iPads and preparing the cookies and oranges for Santa and his reindeer.


When you graduate from HKS, what is the best memory you’ll take away? 

It is very difficult to choose just one.  The countless moments with friends sharing and hearing their personal stories and the lifelong friendships we have made.


What one item is essential to your everyday life and why? 

Most people who know me know that I love music – so I would have to say my earbuds are essential.  Music feeds my soul every day.


What are you looking forward to most after you graduate in May?

Being back with my family and friends and using the tools I learned here to be a better leader in serving my community.  And an awesome trip to Hawaii – mahalo!