Kate Kelley '95, a native of Sheffield, Mass., earned her bachelor's degree from Villanova University before joining the Army in 1999. In 2003, she earned a master's degree in international relations from the University of Oklahoma and went on to be stationed with the U.S. Army 1st Infantry Division in Heidelberg, Germany. Kelley moved up through the ranks and held several other positions before obtaining her master's degree in National Security and Strategic Studies from the U.S. Naval War College in 2012.
Today, Kelley is the Superintendent of Arlington National Cemetery. She is responsible for the complete operations of Arlington National Cemetery, encompassing 624 acres, with nearly four million annual visitors, and providing more than 7,000 annual burials to our nation's military service men and women and their families. She leads a military and civilian workforce of over 200 dedicated professionals.
As superintendent, Kelley serves as the Army liaison to the Department of Veterans Affairs, the American Battle Monuments Commission, and the National Park Service to develop strategic partnerships, improve support to veterans and their families, and enhance the visitor experience at Arlington.
What are your fondest memories of Berkshire?
I have distinct and positive memories of the beauty of the School itself, the Mountain, the buildings and the rolling fields surrounding it. I started to first notice and then appreciate architecture, design, and landscaping when I was at Berkshire. Although I didn't know it then, this greatly influences my personal hobbies these days. I also recall very positive connections with certain faculty members who had great influence in my life. The exposure to foreign students and opportunities to travel to other countries represented tremendous opportunity.
What are the most important life lessons that you learned as a student?
Who you know is certainly important but being competent, continually developing myself, and driving action opened doors for me. I also realized that culture is important, and I knew coming out of Berkshire that I needed to be in an organizational culture that drives improvement, takes action, and leads. At Berkshire, I was figuring out what kind of a personality I was and where I would be able to do well, and that allowed me to make decisions at the college level that propelled me into an organization with extraordinary leadership opportunity and life or death challenges. For me it was the right path.
Can you tell us about your career and hobbies, and why you are passionate about them?
When I graduated from college, I was commissioned as lieutenant in the U.S. Army. I spent four years serving mostly in Germany and returned to the Washington, D.C. area. After some time working for private companies, I started as a federal employee working for the Army and have made this my primary career path ever since.
As far as hobbies, my husband and I own a historic home in Fredericksburg, Virginia, parts of which date back to 1801. We enjoy the process of designing our renovations, restoring and updating the home, and doing most of the work ourselves. My personal creative hobby, however, is cooking. I like to spend time in the kitchen, at the grill, or at the smoker, coming up with something that people will love. Pretty sure I got that from both my grandmothers who were fantastic cooks and bakers. I also love to spend time outside working on landscaping and gardening. I enjoy being outdoors as much as possible, and I'm fortunate to have a small yard in the city where I can dabble in some fun outdoor projects.
How did Berkshire help you shape and pursue your goals?
Berkshire started to show me the importance of leadership and motivating teams, and it gave me opportunities to challenge myself. I think my experience on sports teams was the impetus for that lesson. I was certainly not an amazing athlete nor was I the smartest student by a long shot, but I ended up captaining several teams and was the first day student to be awarded the Berkshire Cup. Today, I am the first female superintendent of Arlington National Cemetery since its inception in 1864, and it's not because I have managed cemeteries, it's because the job is about leadership, strategy, and influence. I started to realize early at Berkshire how technical competence in things was only so critical. At some point, as you take on bigger challenges, it becomes about creative problem solving, motivating, and leading people. This lesson—that for me started on the softball pitch and basketball court, and as a student at Berkshire—helped lead me to the Army and into some of the most challenging leadership positions in my career.
What advice would you give to today's students?
Have fun, but be mindful of how choices today can and will impact your options later. Take every chance you can to challenge yourself. Be a lifelong learner. I have made a point of iteratively throughout my career returning to opportunities to educate myself further. Both my parents were teachers, with my father tutoring at Berkshire for a time as well, so education is in the blood. Keep looking for a career that you LOVE, and don't be surprised if you don't know what that is until later on in life. Know your strengths, but acknowledge your weaknesses too.