Mary Ellen Richardson Player

Mary Ellen Richardson Player

Class of 2000

City Operations Lead, Google Fiber Charlotte

  • Harvard College, AB in Social Studies
  • Stanford Graduate School of Business, MBA

In August of 1998 when I arrived in Hartsville, I thought I was ready for Governor’s School. I’d spent almost every summer as long as I could remember away at South Carolina “nerd camps” and was going to be Govie roommates with my best friend who I’d even met at one of them. While I’d always worked hard, academics in my hometown school had come relatively easy to me. I thought I was ready. 

I was wrong.

I didn’t know the meaning of hard work. I also didn’t fathom the meaning and the depth of true friendship. 

During my two years as a Govie, I became comfortably uncomfortable with not getting the right answer the first time, and sometimes not even the second. However, in those two years, I also learned to lean on those who were simply smarter than I was in certain subjects and to lend my expertise in return. I learned, as I think all in the class of 2000 did, that I relished the challenge of subjects that I had to work hard to master. I loved that challenge even more because of the company of  those that toiled alongside me in our mutual stairwell, laboratory, or my personal favorite study spot, the bathtub.  

When I arrived at Harvard in the fall of 2000, I was ready. I was in the company of those who had attended the exclusive and storied boarding schools across the country. However, thanks to generosity and foresight of the state of South Carolina, the free education I received at Governor’s School put me a step ahead of those compatriots. 

While I left my focus on hard science in Hartsville, my Governor’s School training served me well as a social studies major. A combination of philosophy, economics, sociology and social theory this discipline was both notoriously challenging  and required an extensive summer research project. I sought out these challenges because of the sure footing Governor’s School provided. 

My summers in college were spent studying our state -- first at a think tank focused on economic development and then as the subject of my senior thesis. This work revealed hard truths and economic realities in South Carolina. Poverty in the state was real, particularly in my own Pee Dee region. Racial divides were part of the cultural fabric, visible in the churches I had researched and even in front of our own statehouse. 

In a roundabout way, these investigations drew me closer to South Carolina and a life purpose to tap the potential I knew to be within its borders. At Governor’s School I had interacted with the best, smartest and most ambitious in the country, nonetheless the state. At Harvard, I found myself the defender against the southern stereotype of backwoods, behind the times thinking that people associated with South Carolina. This was not the state that had educated me in such a world class way nor was it my personal experience of the talent and intellect our state could produce. 

Those summers in combination with a deep sense of gratitude to the state that had given me so much has led to a deliberate, albeit slow march back home. Along this march, I’ve carried with me the distinctive marks of my Govie training: run towards the thing that scares me, develop the skills that will best help me help others and always keep a tie to home. 

This march has taken me from strategy consulting for the Army in Washington to Google Marketing in New York, to Stanford Business School, to Google Finance in San Francisco. Peppered throughout those adventures have been weeks spent at Palmetto Girls State, an enrichment program for talented South Carolina young women --a program that I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to attend had I not been at Governor’s School. 

When the opportunity to lead Google’s latest moonshot project, Google Fiber, came about in Charlotte, I took the next big leap towards that march home. The southeast, and particularly the Carolinas, have been technologically left behind. The lack of access to home internet connectivity contributes directly to the challenges that I studied in college and those that continue to plague our region today.  This was not acceptable to me and now in a position to change the tide, I jumped at the chance. 

In my day-to-day work at Fiber I’m able to live out those govie principles. At every turn, I encounter something that is incredibly complex and difficult.  However, I also know that I’m one linear foot of fiber closer to improving the lives of folks in our region and hopefully one day our state. That’s what I went to Governor’s School to do. 

What Governor’s School provided me -- the lifelong friendships, the confidence to tackle anything and the opportunities to give back are the hallmarks that I carry with me along every road I travel. 

Once a Govie, always a Govie.