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Healing and Humor in Atlanta

A message of humor and inspiration from 2024 NBOA Annual Meeting Speaker Bertice Berry.

Oct 10, 2023  |  By Jeff Shields, FASAE, CA

Jeffrey Shields, FASAE, CAE
NBOA President and CEO

Over the long weekend, I was in equal parts saddened and horrified by the terrorist attacks in Israel. The violent antisemitic acts are profoundly disheartening, especially when antisemitism has been on the rise around the world, including in the U.S. Too many lives have already been lost and the prospect of more is dispiriting to say the least. The news comes on the heels of a long spate of travel for NBOA senior staff, which has, in contrast, been uplifting and inspiring. So for now, I will turn to what we can control, and gatherings that may give us hope for a brighter and more peaceful future. 

In mid-September, I co-presented with NBOA Chief Learning Officer Jennifer Osland Hillen at the Enrollment Management Association’s Annual Conference, where I reflected on the intersection of financial aid, economic sustainability for our schools and diversity. Later in the month I had the pleasure to present for the Hawai’i Association of Independent School’s in front of the state’s heads of school, business officers and enrollment professionals. There conversations regarding financial health and our tuition pricing and discounting strategies were top of mind. Meanwhile, NBOA Executive Vice President James Palmieri represented the association at the International Council Advancing Independent School Accreditation’s annual meeting, this year in the Netherlands, where school business operations were part of larger conversations around standards that will ensure our schools thrive as the world changes at a rapid pace.

My point here is that we have been speaking to and learning from peers with some frequency this fall, and I have never been more excited to be an active member of the thoughtful, energetic, mission-driven independent school community. These engagements have me revved up for the 2024 NBOA Annual Meeting, which will be held in Atlanta, February 25-28. I have already had the pleasure of interviewing opening keynote speaker Shawn Kanungo, a disruption and innovation strategist and bestselling author. You’ll learn more about what he shared in regard to change management, workplace culture, AI and the independent school business office in the November/December issues of Net Assets magazine. And this year’s NBOA Breakfast speaker, Brett Jacobsen, CEO of the Mount Vernon School, Mount Vernon Ventures and Mount Vernon Online, has also been on my mind, as the Southern Association of Independent Schools (SAIS) recently announced he will be the organization’s next president. 

We’ve had artists and producers and athletes and popular authors as the keynote. But we have never had a bone fide stand-up comedian, with a doctorate to boot. 

But it’s our NBOA Awards Luncheon speaker Bertice Berry who I want to call out this week, which for many of us started with Monday’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day holiday. Originally a sociology professor — Berry earned her Ph.D. in the subject at just 26 years old — she has hosted her own television show and become a renowned, heartfelt and laugh-out-loud-funny event speaker. Author of more than a dozen books, she can talk on a range of subjects, from wellness to storytelling to connectedness and belonging. I particularly enjoy her TEDx talk, " The Space Between Light and Laughter," one of many videos you can find on her website

With our NBOA Awards Luncheon speaker, we strive to find someone that can entertain attendees and keep the atmosphere uplifted while we honor those who have served our community at exceptional levels. We’ve had artists and producers and athletes and popular authors as the keynote. But we have never had a bone fide stand-up comedian, with a doctorate to boot. Dr. Berry has worked with major corporations as a consultant and speaker on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion, and the substance of her work is serious. At the same time, she also won awards as Comedian of the Year and Entertainer of the Year. I can’t wait to hear what she has to say about “Living with Purpose” at the Annual Meeting. 

Dr. Berry has dealt with MS and a serious brain injury while maintaining a national profile and raising five adopted children. She has found her way through life’s challenges, and I am sure she will inspire all of us to overcome ours with vision and hope for a brighter and more peaceful future. Yes, the economy seems to be ever uncertain these days. Yes, we are still dealing with the impacts of the pandemic, inflation and political unrest. But we have gotten through much, and speakers like Dr. Berry will reenergize us to make it through the next round of challenges ahead. I hope you plan to join me and more than approximately 1,300 of your national colleagues and peers in Atlanta in February. 

Jeff Shields signature


Jeff Shields

Jeffrey Shields, FASAE, CAE

President and CEO


Washington, DC

Jeff Shields, FASAE, CAE, has served as president and CEO of the NBOA since March 2010. NBOA is the premier national association serving the needs of business officers and business operations staff at independent schools. Shields, an active member of the American Society of Association Executives, has been recognized as an ASAE Fellow (FASAE) and earned the Certified Association Executive (CAE) professional designation. His current board service includes serving as a director for AMHIC, a healthcare consortium for educational associations in Washington, DC, as well as a trustee for the Enrollment Management Association. Previous board service includes serving as a director for the American Society of Association Executives, as a director for One Schoolhouse, an innovative online school offering supplemental education to independent schools, and as a trustee for Georgetown Day School in Washington, DC. Shields holds a BA from Shippensburg University and an MA from The Ohio State University.

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