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Service is in her DNA
USC Gould School of Law

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Aulana Peters (JD 1973) continues to open the way for the next generation

By Carren Jao

Aulana Peters

Aulana Peters (JD 1973) has long felt called to serve. “It’s just been part of my DNA for such a long time,” she says, citing her parents’ influence, as well as her formative education as the source for her inclination to be of service. After rising through the ranks at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP and being named partner, in 1984 she got the ultimate chance to serve when she was appointed to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission by President Ronald Reagan. She was the first African American and the third woman ever appointed to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) — a position of service to the whole country. The experience left an indelible impression on Peters.

“I am of an age that I don’t use this word too often, but those four years in Washington D.C. were absolutely awesome,” she says. Still, she nearly took another path, and she credits her husband Bruce for persuading her to make law her career choice.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the College of New Rochelle in New York, Peters headed toward a career in education. “I was motivated by a desire to work in the Black community, with the disadvantaged, underserved youth of the community,” she says. “I had had a lot of opportunities in my life and done well and I wanted to do something to provide young Black people of today, who are good students, the same opportunities, so I thought teaching was the career for me.”

When it came time to apply for graduate school, Bruce suggested law, believing her temperament was not suited to working full-time in education, though she clearly had the motivation to make a difference. “He also persuaded me that with a degree in law I would be able to have a bigger impact and broader imprint on the community that I wanted to serve,” Peters says. “As it turned out, he was correct.”

After the SEC, she returned to Gibson Dunn, working in litigation until her retirement in 2000. While at Gibson Dunn, Peters embraced service through the firm’s pro bono program. She has also served on a number of boards of directors for such companies as 3M Company, Deere & Company, Northrop Grumman Corporation, Mobil Corporation and Merrill Lynch & Co.

Peters continues to give back to the broader community, particularly underserved youth. She and her husband are mentors and financial supporters of Thrive Scholars, a nonprofit educational organization that guides and mentors high-achieving low-income students of color. In 2018, Peters and her husband created and endowed the Peters Pharis Foundation which makes financial awards to nonprofits providing educational opportunities to talented young people from low-income families.

“[My husband and I] both look back on our lives and are grateful for our good fortune. We want to do what we can to provide underserved young people the opportunity to fulfill their potential,” Peters says.

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