Scripps Commencement Speaker is Alumna, Former Trustee, and Entrepreneur

Ruth Markowitz Owades SC ’66, entrepreneur and former trustee, will be the 2013 Scripps College Commencement Speaker.

“She has a great story. She was one of the first full scholarship students from Scripps, which was the highest distinction; served as a trustee after she graduated; is a mentor to young entrepreneurs; and is now funding a scholarship that kicks in next year,” said Scripps Vice President for Communications and Marketing Marylou Ferry, who was involved in the selection process.

Ferry explained that Owades began her career as a successful entrepreneur when she proposed the idea of a catalog for upscale gardening tools and outdoor furniture to the large retailer she was working for at the time. When her idea was rejected, she left to found Gardener’s Eden, which went on to create a new market niche nationwide. In just a few years, Williams-Sonoma had made an offer to buy Gardener's Eden and asked her to serve as president.

But that was just the beginning of Owades' entrepreneurial story. Her next idea, which met initial hesitance from shippers who were concerned about delivering fragile and perishable flowers to residences, also reached success because of her savvy and drive.

Owades was selected to speak at the 2013 Commencement because she herself embodies many of the qualities Scripps stands for.

“For Scripps, our focus is on women of courage and confidence, and our mission is to develop women who contribute to society through their lives,” Ferry said. “Owades will deliver a message that includes some of the work she’s done to contribute to society, the courage that she has called on to take some of the risks that she took, and how you can pursue a life well lived and have the guts and confidence and courage to do that.”

Leah Conner SC ’16 remarked on the choice, “Her floral business was really successful, and she’s been on Forbes 100. It’s pretty amazing.”

Cassie Chen SC ’16 also emphasized Owades’s business success.

“She’s incredible because she’s so successful in such a male-dominated business world,” Chen said.

The committee in charge of selecting the commencement speaker is a group of students from that graduating class. The students begin the discussions during their junior year and formulate a list of possible speakers. The students then reach out to faculty and trustees who provide contacts and possible connections.

“We don’t pay commencement speakers, and we don’t give honorary degrees, so we’re trying to tap into contacts that might have contacts,” Ferry said.

Notable speakers from the past include former Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords in 2009.

“Gabby Giffords, who is a Scripps alum, made a speech that is still quoted ... to this day. That was the high water mark. She was an alumna, did her Fulbright in Mexico, was a rising star in politics,” Ferry said. “If I’ve heard any commencement speeches talked about the most, it was hers.”