Getting involved with service organizations can be a great way to give back to the community, as many William and Mary graduates know so well. And if you are the one who keeps on having great ideas, you might find yourself in a new office. That is exactly what has happened to Mark O. Shriver IV '71, who was just elected to become the president of Optimist International, the fourth-largest service organization in the world.
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Optimist is composed of over 3,000 clubs throughout the United States, Canada and the Caribbean with some in Europe and Africa. In existence for 90 years, and with a membership of more than 100,000, the Optimist clubs' collective mission is to put on activities and projects for children - the slogan being "Bringing Out the Best in Kids." Each club runs their own activities and events, which include a junior golf program, oratorical and essay contests and communications contests for the deaf and hard of hearing. Many of these competitions include college scholarships as awards, and the fundraising activities for each club are conducted in their local community.
As president, one of Shriver's goals will be to launch a new initiative, which he has been preparing for the past few years.
"We have a new program that we are rolling out this summer involving Internet safety," says Shriver. "We are educating parents as to what they can do to help their kids be safe online. We recently completed the production of videos that will be distributed to the clubs to take into their communities."
The move to president is a natural one for Shriver. Over the past quarter century, Shriver has served in numerous roles for Optimist, including club president, task force committees, vice president and other roles. He has had the pleasure to work along with hundreds of dedicated volunteers, including Carrollyn Cox J.D. '79 and Dee Rushforth M.B.A. '72.
Shriver runs his own law firm, based in the suburbs of Atlanta. In his day-to-day business, he deals with family litigation and adoption cases, so the transition to the Optimist club is an easy one, where his expertise in the legal world of children is extremely insightful.
"The main focus [when I take office Oct. 1] to encourage clubs to do more activities for more kids, because the programs we offer are needed more than ever," says Shriver. "Also, we'd like to add members and to add new clubs in new communities, because with more members we can provide additional services to even more children."
Shriver has been a member since 1981, and feels that his Optimist experience is among the most rewarding experiences that he has been involved with.
"What the Optimist clubs provide, nobody else provides," says Shriver. "I get a real satisfaction from knowing that Optimist clubs throughout the world are providing opportunities for children that otherwise are not being provided."
And though he is on the crest of success at his firm and through his volunteer activities, he makes a point to say that young alumni and current students should be prepared to work extra hard as they enter the workforce, especially under today's difficult economic conditions. His advice to those who are just entering the workforce or preparing to finish law school, ironically is, one of optimism.
"I suggest that they try to find a middle to small-sized firm to work for and if that doesn't work, then don't be afraid to go out and set up your own practice," says Shriver. And he would know, as that is exactly how he started his own law firm, under similar economic conditions. It may be providential that the Optimist organization has such a seasoned leader at its helm, one who lived abroad and has created a successful business even in lean times.
Shriver went to high school in Toronto, and while not the most exotic of locations to grow up, when he came to the College, he admits that he felt like an exchange student at first. He soon shed that and got down to the hard work of being a William and Mary student.
After graduating from William and Mary, Shriver moved to Atlanta to attend Emory Business School, and eventually received a law degree from the Emory Law School as well.
"The academic challenge that William and Mary offers, I developed both knowledge and confidence that I could do almost anything," says Shriver. "That was reinforced when I went to Emory with other students from Harvard and Yale. I felt equal to, or stronger than they were."
It was in Atlanta where Shriver met his wife, Patricia McKay, and they settled down with their family of five children. Though Atlanta is his home, he makes the trek back to Williamsburg as often as possible, including the five-year class reunions during Homecoming weekend.
"The College makes you work for it and you really earn [the degree]," says Shriver. "You benefit for the rest of your life as a result of that and that is ideally what you want from a college. And you really get that from William and Mary. I can remember sitting at graduation thinking that ‘finally, they can't take it away from me.' That was a real sense of satisfaction in having met the task. I have been able to take on whatever I wanted to take on."