Nina Shaw ’76 believes everyone deserves the opportunity to make something of themselves. She made the most of hers: After piecing together her Barnard tuition from a combination of scholarships and student loans, she enrolled in law school and began a career as an entertainment lawyer. Today, Shaw is a Hollywood power player representing movie stars such as Jamie Foxx and Laurence Fishburne through the law firm she cofounded, Del, Shaw, Moonves, Tanaka, Finkelstein & Lezcano. As busy as her schedule is, she accepted an invitation to speak on behalf of donors and friends at Barnard’s Torchbearers 2010, the annual gathering of scholarship, internship, and fellowship donors and their student recipients.
Speaking to the Torchbearers audience about her own background and the importance of giving back, Shaw noted that she wouldn’t have been able to afford her undergraduate studies without scholarships. As a result, she decided to offer current students with financial needs the same kind of assistance she received. Shaw has established two: The first, the Mary Catlett Hardy Scholarship Fund, has helped pay for the Barnard education of a dozen students since the 1998–99 academic year. The second, the Nina L. Shaw ’76 Residential Scholarship Fund, will begin supporting recipients soon. “I have a very keen sense that financial aid made the difference between the life I led and the life I’m living now,” she says.
Honoring a Dream Denied
The first scholarship Shaw endowed is named for her great- grandmother, Mary Catlett Hardy, whom she would visit in Charlottesville, Virginia, during childhood. “...A spectacular woman—tall and soft-spoken, with a southern accent,” recalls Shaw. “She was a professional seamstress, but was actually more like an artist. She made the most beautiful clothing you could possibly imagine. We read Vogue ... going through it line by line, and she would often copy clothing she saw there.”
Shaw’s great-grandmother spoke about growing up in the South at a time when many African Americans had few opportunities for education. “In my great-grandmother’s time, if you were a colored person, you had to leave town to get a high school education,” she says. “There was no black high school in Charlottesville until 1926.”
Mary Catlett Hardy persevered, eventually enrolling at Oberlin College and working side jobs to pay her tuition. When her father fell ill, however, she had to return to Charlottesville and give up her dream of a college education. “She spoke of Oberlin like it was the city on the hill,” says Shaw. “She was a great leader and had a great intellectual curiosity, but her formal education ended when she was just 17 years old. It is truly the tragedy of her life.” That dream cut short was the motivation behind the scholarship Shaw established in her great-grandmother’s name.
A Shot at Success
Shaw grew up in Harlem and the Bronx with two brothers and two sisters. Her mother worked at the post office and later at the motor vehicles department; her stepfather was a New York City Housing policeman, who drove a cab part time. “My parents were always very clear that they wanted me to achieve far more than they had,” says Shaw. “We were going to be this incredibly successful generation. It wasn’t a question of if you go to college, it was when you go to college.”
-by Peter McDougall, photograph by Roger Davies