Go to content, skip over navigation


More Pages

Go to content, skip over visible header bar
Home News Features Arts & Entertainment Sports OpinionAbout Contact Advertise

Note about Unsupported Devices:

You seem to be browsing on a screen size, browser, or device that this website cannot support. Some things might look and act a little weird.

Beyond the ballot

March 29, 2024

Caroline Adams

Welcome back to Turning Point! In case you are new here, we interview Bowdoin alumni and Mainers about the experiences that shaped their twenties and share their stories with Bowdoin students.

This week, we sat down with Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows to hear about how she navigated her twenties. She recently made headlines for ruling that Trump should be barred from the Maine primary ballot due to his involvement in the January 6 insurrection. Before all that, she was once just like us—unsure of her future and of how to align her values with a meaningful career.

Secretary Bellows is originally from Hancock, Maine and attended Middlebury College. Bellows began her career in economic consulting and then moved into the Peace Corps and next the AmeriCorps. She later worked for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in Washington, D.C. and then came home to work for the ACLU of Maine. She began her political career in 2014 when she ran to be a Maine U.S. Senator but was defeated by Susan Collins. In 2016, she won a seat in the Maine State Senate. After her term was up in 2018, she began working at the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine until she was elected as Maine’s first female Secretary of State in 2021, her current position.

C+E: Tell us about your upbringing and how it shaped your career.

SB: I grew up without electricity or running water, and I think that shaped my passion for social justice. My parents were activists in a sense—my mom ran for the planning board to save a local bald eagle’s nest back when bald eagles were endangered.… My dad helped start the town’s recycling center. Watching my parents in action as a child, even though we didn’t have money, I saw the power to make a difference. And that’s what I wanted to do.

C+E: What was your first job out of college and how did you get there?

SB: I almost didn’t return for senior year, because my financial aid package wasn’t sufficient for me to afford returning. I appealed that package with the financial aid office, and I secured enough financial aid to make my senior year work. That being said, when I graduated from college, I had significant student loan debt. My first priority was paying off my loans … So I took a job with an economics consulting firm called Economists Incorporated, where I was for two years. That was really useful in paying down my student loans and learning rigorous economic analysis. But it wasn’t in keeping with my desire to change the world or with my values of social justice. So I went into the Peace Corps, which also had student loan forgiveness, so it was a viable way to continue to chip away at that student debt.

C+E: What drew you to politics?

SB: After AmeriCorps I didn’t have a job, and I moved home with my parents. I was trying to figure out what was next. I started volunteering for Chellie Pingree, who was running for U.S. Senate, really because I needed something to do, and I hadn’t figured out what was next. That political experience certainly sharpened my excitement about politics.… Volunteering for Chellie Pingree and then working for the Maine Democratic Party was a great experience to see what it might be like in politics. While it took me several years before I ran for office, that was a good foundation for some of the organizing work that I did with political campaigns.

C+E: Did you always know what you wanted to do with your career?

SB: My kindergarten teacher asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up.… I said I wanted to be a teacher because all my friends said that.… Deep down I really wanted to be either an artist or president.

C+E: What led to your move back to Maine?

SB: All the years that I lived outside of Maine, whenever I’d talk to my dad, he would say, “When are you coming home?” I would say, “When I find a job!” I was talking to my dad, and he said, “There’s a job open to be head of the ACLU of Maine.” I was 29 at the time. I thought of all the reasons I couldn’t do that. I said, “Dad, I’m not qualified. I’m not an attorney. I’ve never been an executive director of an organization before.” He was really insistent and he believed in me and strongly encouraged me to apply. He introduced me to someone who had been involved in the ACLU. So it really was my family just asking me, “When are you coming home?” Everywhere I went, Maine was always my home.

C+E: What was your turning point?

SB: Applying to be Executive Director of the ACLU of Maine. Even though I feared I wasn’t qualified, it turned out I was qualified. And I loved that job and excelled in it. At the time, it felt like a huge risk. I was giving up something that felt very safe and doable at the National ACLU. But that put me on a path to social justice here in Maine and led to my position as Secretary of State today.

C+E: How would you describe your 20s in a few words?

SB: Hard work, the spirit of adventure, fierce friendships.

C+E: Would you do anything differently if you could?

SB: I wouldn’t be so hard on myself. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that anybody ever grows out of this, but I worked so hard in college and wanted to do so well … but nobody asks you what your GPA was five years out of college, or even two years out of college.… I had a couple of friends who had a weekly tradition of going down to the local bar our senior spring and having a happy hour. I think I joined them once that whole senior spring. If I had to do it all over again, I would have made sure to go with them every week. The good news is they were good friends and still loved me. And I’m still in touch with them today.

C+E: What advice would you give your younger self?

SB: Take time to enjoy the experience and my friendships because those are what would endure.… That sounds really trite, but it feels true.


Before submitting a comment, please review our comment policy. Some key points from the policy:

  • No hate speech, profanity, disrespectful or threatening comments.
  • No personal attacks on reporters.
  • Comments must be under 200 words.
  • You are strongly encouraged to use a real name or identifier ("Class of '92").
  • Any comments made with an email address that does not belong to you will get removed.

Leave a Reply

Any comments that do not follow the policy will not be published.

0/200 words