Macarena Tamayo-Calabrese leading a talk on opportunities for Latino students.

North Central News

Attorney and community leader Macarena Tamayo-Calabrese inspires students to “be the author of your own story”

Jacob Imm

May 17, 2023

As part of North Central College’s "Empowering Latino Communities" distinguished speaker series, the College welcomed attorney Macarena Tamayo-Calabrese, president and CEO of Naper Settlement.

Tamayo-Calabrese spoke with students and took their questions on March 27 in Smith Hall at Old Main. She shared her diverse range of experiences and challenges as a Latina immigrant and a woman of color navigating the legal profession, the political arena, and the realm of community activism both in the United States and abroad.

Dr. Jelena Sanchez, professor of Spanish and the coordinator of the speaker series, said she invited Tamayo-Calabrese to speak because she felt her story would resonate particularly well with North Central students.

“As a Spanish professor and Latino community leader, I strive to build strong relationships between changemakers and our promising, future leaders,” said Sanchez. “I invited Ms. Tamayo-Calabrese to share her professional experience in diverse arenas with our students for many reasons. Her career focus on inclusivity, history, research, and community brilliantly aligns with our college's vision.”

Macarena Tamayo-Calabrese leading a discussion with students.

Tamayo-Calabrese took an unconventional route to her professional position. Owing only to her racial and gender identity, she had to overcome harassment, bias, barriers to entry, and outsized expectations on order to succeed. Determination and patience were important for her success, but so was her foresight and creativity to cultivate skills that empowered her to succeed in multiple fields.

“(Tamayo-Calabrese's) transferable skills in law, international diplomacy, not-for-profit, and leadership gave her leverage to change careers successfully throughout her life, especially beneficial when she decided to find a more flexible career and focus on her family,” Sanchez said.

In addition to presenting her own story, Tamayo-Calabrese counseled students on strategies for navigating the professional sphere. She stressed self-respect and self-belief, encouraging her audience to pursue career opportunities with conviction and strive for leadership. She also advocated for creative problem-solving and networking as tools for finding careers and getting ahead professionally.

Sanchez was gratified that Tamayo-Calabrese gave of her time to share her message with students and hoped there would be much for them to remember and use on their personal journeys.

I hope students gained a sense of empowerment by learning about the importance of intercultural communication, community engagement, and thinking-outside-the box,” Sanchez said. “I encourage our students to remember (Tamayo-Calabrese's) message, ‘Be the author of your own story, not a character in someone else's.’”

Watch the video of Tamayo-Calabrese's presentation:

Jelena Sanchez (left) and Macarena Tamayo-Calabrese

Jelena Sanchez (left) and Macarena Tamayo-Calabrese