Accountant and financial planner Myrna De Jesus WG70 knows a few things about glass ceilings and how to break them. She earned an MBA from Wharton back when the percentage of women in each graduating class was nowhere near its current level of parity. When she joined Arthur Andersen in the ’70s, there were no women partners and almost no women managers. And when she became president of the Wharton Club of New York circa 1984, she was the first woman to hold the position. De Jesus left Arthur Andersen in the early 2000s to manage real estate properties and pursue her love of art. Today, the 81-year-old shares her thoughts on following one’s passions, living courageously, and overcoming fear.

My mentor was my father. He was an orphan, enrolled in school, and when he needed money, he would go work. He got a law degree all by himself. He was such an example of determination and ambition.

Follow your passions. You have to look into your inner self and find what makes you feel fulfilled.

We organized events for women at the Wharton Club of New York. I invited women lecturers who were popular at the time. It was important for support. It was a way to network with women who had the same ambitions. We really had a lot of fun together. We still do.

There’s nothing like New York, as the song says. And I’ve traveled all over the world — Russia, China, Africa, India. I would love to go to Japan or Egypt.

Life is an adventure. The more things you try, the more you grow.

I decided to go to art school at the Art Students League of New York about 25 years ago. I was afraid at first, because that’s where famous artists have studied. But I did watercolors, and then I progressed. I still have the first painting I did, a portrait of a woman. It’s hanging on the wall. Art is like an oasis, a different world.

I inherited fearlessness from my father. That’s just in you — the ability to just go for it.

The most difficult decision I’ve made was probably not getting married. It has given me the freedom to pursue my dreams. I have three sisters and a niece who is like a daughter, lots of friends. I am also very ambitious. Not having a family might have been a blessing. It’s nice to have company, but I don’t need anybody to do anything.

That experience of meeting very intelligent people from all over the world at Wharton — who could ask for anything more?

Develop all the talents God gave you. You’re not only one thing — you can be many things. I have been very lucky to develop both my business talents and my artistic talents. For that, I’m very grateful. It takes courage.

My mother had artistic talents, but she never had a chance to develop them — she had four daughters and her husband. She didn’t have that chance. I’m glad I did.

The Wharton alumni clubs are very fulfilling. It’s great for networking. People in so many different corporations — who knows, they might introduce you to their company. There are also the friendships, people who’ve shared the same experiences. For many Wharton women, that’s making your way in a man’s world.

To tell you the truth, I said, “Why am I doing this interview?” But I feel like I have something to say.

Did I follow my passions? I think so. So far, so good.


Published as “Myrna De Jesus WG70” in the Spring/Summer 2024 issue of Wharton Magazine.